The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



January 25, 2008

'Green' grandmas

Deep in a discussion about the environment with friends recently—specifically, how much we’d be willing to change our daily habits—one observed that if we just ran our homes like our grandmothers did, we’d all be making big improvements. Now, these women are of an age that our grandmothers kept house during the Depression. Here’s some of what we recall:

•Turning plastic bread bags inside out and washing them for future storage.
•Using string bags for shopping.
•Saving jelly glasses for use as juice glasses.
•Fusing slices of almost-gone soap bars together.
•Washing aluminum foil and reusing, reusing, reusing.

So it’s no surprise that my eye was caught by an essay in last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, "A post-Depression environmentalist.” This tribute to his mother, who died recently, by Martin Fischer included a remembrance of “her darning our socks, a repair-and-reuse process for hosiery that she would maintain until failing eyesight made it too difficult.” And I saw again my grandmother sitting with her darning egg (a wooden tool with an oval on top a handle) making finely woven patches on the heels of our socks. I wonder what happened to that tool?

I think many of us would recognize our mothers and grandmas in Fischer’s observation: “My mother did not participate in the city’s recycling program. She did not think of herself as an evironmentalist. But her thrifty lifestyle could be praised and emulated by those of us who now worry about the excessive consumption that has been linked to global warming.”

Now, I’m not about to head to a flea market in search of a darning egg, but I think I will take another look at the Web of Creation, an on-line resource for our day that offers inspiring and practical ideas to support our “efforts to live, work and pray in ways that promote eco-justice.” It’s the creation of ELCA pastor David Rhoads, professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

I’m a grandma now, myself, so it’s certainly my responsibility to carry on “being green”—easy, or not.




Posted at 10:44 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/27/2008

Reading your blog today brought back some pleasant memories.  My mother was not the "green" person in our family.  It was my father.  My sister and I chuckle and think how a lot of the world has come around to his way of thinking.

 We had a compost pile in the backyard.  Others laughed.  Pa tried very hard to keep seeds out of the compost, but apparently somehow a cantaloupe seed got in there.  And sprouted.  What a surprise to have that plant growing out of the compost.  Good cantaloupe, too.

 He also cut up banana peels and buried them around the rose bushes.  His roses were always beautiful.  He sprinkled his cigar ashes on Ma's houseplants.  He ground up egg shells and buried them, along with coffee grounds around plantings in the yard.  He would certainly get a laugh from Starbucks giving away their coffee grounds today.

 We figure he probably learned things like this from his mother.  I can remember Grandma racing the old man across the alley to get the horse droppings from the "rags,. old iron" man's horse.  We were kind of embarassed about that.  

 Ma washed out plastic straws.  My sister carried on that tradition for a while.  My sons were watching Ma when she offered to take care of the dessert plates after a party.  They were sure she would wash them.  What a surprise!  She took care of them by  tossing them in the garbage.

 Now my son dumps the coffee grounds in a bucket for my husband to use in our garden.

 In this family all ribbons and bows on birthday packages get used again and again.  I'm not sure if this shows how "green" we are, or if it shows how thrifty we are.




Posted at 12:30 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/28/2008

Oh, Lois, you reminded me of more good memories, too. Including washing out plastic straws! I recall them being a big treat-and we made a package last.

You raise an interesting point about the "green"-thrifty connection. I think being thrifty does acknowledge the reality of limited resources—whether money, as was the case for our family members of yesteryear, or the earth's. But how good it is to be able to look back and recognize that we do have the capacity in our very own DNA to do a better job of caring for the earth.



Posted at 3:05 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/12/2008

This grandmom reuses everything. Even so, we have waste...things that we can't use over. I think of my parents who re-used paper towels. "We've dried our clean hands on it, so why not re-use it?"  So, if you come into my home and see the occasional paper towel, hanging from a magnetic hook on the fridge, you will know I am following in my parents' footsteps.

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in | Subscribe

text size:

this page: email | print

February issue


Embracing diversity