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Cousin Rufus Recycled

Dear Cousin Cletus,

It’s been a long time since ah wrote you last. That’s cause ah been visitin’ mah relatives outside the holler.

The last place ah visited wuz mah grandson, Harley’s. ‘Bout the third day, Harley’s boy Harold come to me and sez, “Great-Granddaddy, the teacher said we need to tell our family how important it is to recycle. Do you recycle?”

Well, ah ‘bout busted a gut laughin’. “Boy, you prob’ly don’t know the half o’ how we recycled before you wuz even a speck in your mama’s eye.”

“Whaddya mean, Granddaddy?”

“Well, to start with, you know how yore mama throws leftovers down the garbage disposal? Did it never occur to you, boy, they could be recycled? When ah wuz a little shaver like you, we fed our table scraps to the animals. Nothin’ went to waste.”

“Cool!” he said. “What else did you do?”

“Well, we used to walk the country roads, lookin’ fer pop bottles that careless people threw in the ditches. Me an’ yer Great Uncle Silas took ‘em down to the gen’ral store and cashed ‘em in fer spendin’ money. And the sodee pop companies got their glass bottles back to wash and use again.”

“Well, what did you do with your plastic milk jugs?” Harold wanted to know.

“Plastic milk jugs! You gotta be kiddin, boy! They weren’t no plastic milk jugs back then.”

‘Bout that time Harold’s eyes got real big. “Then how did you get milk?”

“Well, most ever’body milked their own cows in the holler. But city folks got theirs in glass jugs. They left the empty ones on their front steps and the milkman come along, took away their empty jugs to give to the company to wash and refill.”

You coulda blown him over with a pinfeather, Cletus. Don’t they teach kids anything these days?

“Well, what about foam meat trays and paper products? Paper towels, magazines, newspapers…thing like that.”

“Harold, we didn’t buy meat in foam trays like your mama does. We butchered our own meat, and either hung it up in the smokehouse all winter, or kept it in a big barrel, salted down. Ever’ time Mama wanted to cook supper, she went to the smokehouse, took a axe and chopped out a chunk o’ meat. No waste there.

“Mama canned all out own fruit and vegetables, too. Put ‘em in glass jars we used over and over ever’ year.” We didn’t have a bunch o’ tin cans and aluminum foil and cardboard, like y’all see today in your trash can. Why, think of all the things you unwrap ever’ day that come in cardboard or paper. See why your daddy has to take out the trash ever’ night?”

“Uh, yeah, I never thought about that.”

“If we did have paper or cardboard, we burnt it out back in the trash barrel. “Cept the Sears catalog. That got used in the outhouse.

“And you know another way we recycled? When we cleaned out our horse and cow stalls, we put their manure on a pile, let it age, and then spread it on the garden for fertilizer!”

Ah guess the boy never heerd o’ organic fertilizer, Cletus. He ‘bout dropped his teeth if he coulda.

“We even recycled our clothes, Harold. When mah big brother outgrew his clothes, he passed ‘em down to me. And when ah outgrew ‘em, ah passed’em down to mah little brother—unless they wuz threadbare by then. And when our clothes got too raggedy to be presentable, Mama made quilt patches out of ‘em.”

By this time young Harold looked like a lightbulb went off over top of his head.

“Granddaddy!” he yelled. “I just thought of somethin’! We’ve been fillin’ up the landfulls with electronic junk that’s supposed to save space. Old computer monitors, keyboards, and stuff.”

“Yep, boy, you’re right. Seems we mighta done better to keep usin’ paper a mite longer. We didn’t throw away a piece of paper just because somebody wrote one sentence on it. We even recycled that when we could. “’Course my daddy used a slate and a piece of chalk. Now that’s being thrifty.”

It did me good, Cletus, to have that little talk with Harold. Seems like you and me never realized all the good we wuz doin’ back in our young days. Mebbe it come from havin’ so little, we learnt to take care of it. These youngens should stand back and learn a thang or two from us old geezers.

Oh, ah did think of one thang our generation forgot to recycle: common sense.

Yore cuz,


What about you? Any thoughts on the recycling you did growing up? Or what you're doing now? Feel free to comment below.


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