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Volume xviii, Issue 18 ~ May 6 to May 12, 2010

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Bay Reflections

My Mother Taught Me the Three Rs: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle

And she’s still my champion

by Dotty Holcomb Doherty

Remember Skinny Minny ice milk from the 1960s? Mrs. Holcomb, with author-daughter Doherty, has a collection of tubs in her basement if you need one.

My mother was a reuser well before it became one of the fashionable three Rs every schoolchild knows today. At 93, she still lives by herself in the house where I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts. My twin sister Patty and I always knew if we needed a box, any size or shape, Mom would have it. Her packrat nature extended to coffee cans, rags, glass jars and plastic containers. Remember Skinny Minny ice milk from the 1960s? She has a collection of tubs in her basement if you need one.

As times have changed, Mother has embraced another R: recycling. It took a little while to convince her, but once we set up special wastebaskets for paper and cans, she took it on. Patty and I still have to sneak in the plastic tubs, though. As with boxes, Mom says, you never know when you might need one just that size.

Now we are charging into the third R: reduce. Reduce has led to a lot of tough decisions. I cleaned out her pantry last month. I took everything out and laid it on the kitchen floor. We both marveled at all the plastic, glassware and cans that had been stacked in there. How was it possible, she asked? We laughed as I held up each piece for her nod toward keep or recycle. We filled her blue recycling bin to overflowing but still kept a nice assortment of sizes.

Next month, she says, we will tackle her office. I see shredders in my future and more overflowing recycling bins.

Her frugality, born of wartime, the Depression and Yankee parents, has rubbed off on me. I have cartons of small boxes in my office, another cache of larger boxes in the garage. A good selection of plastic containers is stacked in my basement. All wrapping paper is smoothed and folded for reuse; my husband even likes to wrap gifts in tissue paper and those mesh bags onions come in. A friend taught us that trick; she also wraps gifts in old maps.

Our now college-age daughters put up with school-day lunches in paper sugar bags, turned inside out to keep their origin a secret. Their sandwiches were tucked in Tupperware, their cookies nestled in reused dried fruit bags. Their after-dinner dishwashing always included plastic bags for reuse, even the ones held together with duct tape.

They drew the line at washing aluminum foil. Their friends, they said, thought we were nuts. So my husband and I cleaned and smoothed each piece, tucking them back into a drawer until needed again.

Mom still wins the reuser award, though. This spring, I laughed when I realized what rag I was using when I washed her windows. It was a cotton diaper Patty and I had worn 53 years ago.


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