ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: Poem on My 79th Birthday
Crabby Old Lady and the Medical Establishment

Elders Being Green

[RONNI HERE: Over a period of time, several readers have sent this story via email. At first, I thought it was interesting but perhaps too divisive of generations to be useful.

But as more people forwarded it and I re-read it, I came to see that it is not just cathartic for elders to vent about misperceptions people have of them.

It is also an excellent reminder of how much more we could be doing for the environment by using or adapting behavior that was commonplace in the past.

See what you think:

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right - our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorabe, besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks.

This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn't do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV or radio in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

RONNI HERE AGAIN: Among the many terrible kinds of environmental degradation humans cause is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the size of the state of Texas. Sometimes, when I think about it, I have trouble breathing.

Wikipedia has a good overview of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mia McCabe: 50th High School Reunion


My favorite was a dear friend who had a box marked. " string too short to save ".. And we always used it up.

I think I am one of many who miss the way we used things up and re-purposed them. I am also pulled by technology into many of the new things. I feel I am on the middle of the fence when it comes to this subject. I know I wouldn't want to part with many things like the computer, but I long for the days when "being green" was so natural. I think we can try to do both and we definitely have been unfairly accused.

I remember being in college and the notion of "planned obsolescence" was abhorrent. Now planned obsolescence runs our economy.

However, doesn't that story work just as well without the young/old introductory anecdote?

As one of Ronni's resident scientists, I'll point out what Ronni was too kind to mention. One is not "...burning up 220 volts...." Assuming that the writer wished to say that energy was being used, one appropriate unit would be watt-hours. *chuckling*

Yes, this golden oldie is still worth reading. Each of us could surely tailor it to our own experiences.

I live in California. Recently our governor was on TV asking us to conserve water. So, I do. But...

I visited Palm Springs yesterday. I was told they have over 100 golf courses. Guess what I am angry about today.

Aren't we also the generation that found less green ways of doing things easier and didn't do a very good job of passing the "old" values on to our children and grandchildren? And I'll bet the snippy young cashier has her own set of not-green habits at home - does she, for instance, always turn out the lights when she's the last person to leave the room?

I'm going to "ditto" Janet Matthews. As a child of the 1950's I was on the cusp of what I like to call "Generation W" (Wasteful). While I did make book covers out of paper bags I thought that plastic milk containers were just "so cool" as were all disposable containers which my mom recycled as a poor man's "Tupperware". So, depending on which side of the Second World War you were born on, I think many of us are to blame for our wasteful ways.

Of course, we didn't think of it as "being green" in those days because that concept hadn't been invented yet. It was simply what we had and what we knew. It's ironic that "progress" has brought us to the point where "being green" is necessary and its goal, basically, is to reintroduce those days.

But Earth Day was 40 years ago - and I remember recycling cans and bottles and newspapers then, until no place would take them. And the 55 mph speed limit that saved gas? And letting the lawn go dormant in the heat of the summer? All those things that were necessary then but ignored because they weren't cost effective - and that's still a big argument now.

Thanks for a great article and I loved reading all the commenyts.

Great post Ronni! Recently, I heard an older gentleman explaining "paper drives" to a youngish man.......he had no idea what a paper drive was & furthermore he wasn't the least bit interested.......oh well. Dee

I didn’t have the “green thing.” I let the water run and left the lights on. I embraced the invention of Styrofoam plates and cups. I celebrated our family’s first air conditioner, and rejoiced when my parents bought our first freezer. Wow! Ice cream? Just go to the freezer and scoop it out!
During the mid sixties, I dated a guy who said he was majoring in sanitation engineering. Oh, how I cackled with my girlfriends about his "nerdiness." Now, I wonder where he is and what he’s doing. I bet his toys are “green ones.” He saw the future. I did not.

Plant a tree a bush or a shrub. Remember the good old days when sewage plants pumped the gray water right into the rivers and you could drain your oil onto the ground and cities stank. AND THE DUMB'S,OH THE DUMB'S.Four miles from the first Super Fund site myself:)))) Why dose New Jersey have the most Super Fund sites and New York the most lawyers? None of us is with out sin when it comes to trashing up the place.

I don't think elders need to be smug about our actions that benefited the environment when we were young . We were thrifty because we had to be and we didn't waste electricity, etc. because we didn't have those modern conveniences that industry has made available.

Now that we are aware of the danger of climate change how many of those same young people who are now elders are as guilty of contributing to the destruction of the environment as the youth? I know several who drive big gas guzzling cars and they drive fast. And I plead guilty to using a clothes dryer instead of going outside and I used to do in freezing weather to hang out my laundry.

I remember when I thought it was fun to mow the lawn with a push mower. We should get back to healthy things like that. I suppose it would be better to dry our clothes on an outside line, too - but only in fair weather. :-).

If there's a hero here, it's the people who do have access to multiple energy wasting devices and do not use them, or use them sparingly. And if there's a villain it's the industrialists who hawked those energy devouring appliances, autos, etc. for profit and who manufacture appliances that break down in a few short years.

We didn't know the damage we were doing by having a TV in every room or driving over 55 mph in our youth. We know now, so it's up to everyone to do our best to save the planet no matter what our age.

So many memories
you made surface.
Darlene, yes this one
loved to push the mover
when cutting grass.
Thank you for this post..

This matter goes way beyond paper or plastic at the supermarket checkout.

As Nan mentions, the first Earth Day was 40 years ago. It celebrated passage of federal environmental legislation--passed or pending. Some examples: the Clear Air Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, and the Superfund Act.

I've been inspired and impressed with the diligence and dedication of many people working in government or in environmental groups to clean up past contamination and to prevent future contamination.

Yet we still read of push-back from companies which want to loosen up existing legislation, such as the Endangered Species Act. This law was inspired by Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" which described-- among other horrors--how the bald-eagle was in danger of extinction due to wide-spread use of DDT.

We sure did know how to be green back when I was young. In addition to the above mentioned stuff, we not only handed down clothing to siblings or younger relatives, when they were too worn to wear we made quilts, doll clothing and cleaning rags out of the still good parts. AND we saved the zippers and buttons to recycle into new clothing.

Also, if the current generation wants to save the trees (which I fully support) why haven't they figured out a way to keep printers from spitting out papers with one stupid line of nothing on them when we print off the web?

I'lve read this one several times for couple of years now. Several versions out there. I love it, thanks for sharing.

I still reuse everything I can. Cut up jeans make great catnip containers. I use plastic milk containers to hold the distilled water that comes out of my dehumidifier. There are still lots of things one can do.

Use it up - wear it out - make it do. Still good advice.

LOVE this post! If the store is a place where the older woman shops regularly, she might consider passing the post and its great comments on to the clerk who "suggested" that she bring a reusable bag. The young woman, who (with good cause) appears to be concerned about the environment, might learn something instead of making assumptions about a time and place she really doesn't know much about.

If there were a whole lot fewer of us our collective bad environmental habits wouldn't be doing much serious harm to our planet.

The first thing I ever sewed was an apron made from a feed sack. For larger projects moms (and sometimes dads) would go through the sacks of feed to try to find matching fabrics. I remember my grandmother unraveling old ratty or out-grown sweaters, tightly winding the yarn around some cardboard, and dampening it to straighten it out, all so it could be re-knit into "new" clothing. This past week we made turkey soup from last week's carcass...all the youngsters in our family save them for us, otherwise they would throw them out.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)