Use Till Tattered

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Erma Bombeck, comedian of all things domestic, once wrote,

My mother won’t admit it, but I’ve always been a disappointment to her. Deep down inside, she’ll never forgive herself for giving birth to a daughter who refuses to launder aluminium foil and use it over again.

My parents used what they had until it couldn’t be used again. Clothes that couldn’t be repaired became rags (although I refused to use my father’s old underwear for a dust cloth). Bread bags were washed and turned inside out to dry. And yes Erma, sometimes foil was reused too.

My kids would surely say I uphold that tradition. It might be frugality, but I think there’s more to it. I have sort of a Velveteen Rabbit feeling about objects worn from use. I like using the same cloth bag to carry library books home. Sure it’s frayed, with straps ever shorter from being sewn back on, but the bag has life left in it. I wear shoes until sunlight shows through, then relegate them to gardening shoes. I save old jeans too, using them for everything from a jeans quilt to trying out my weird idea for jeans-based weed control.

I once wrote a post about the psychological effects of materialism, illustrating it with an image of my toe peeking through a hole in one of our very old blankets. My toe really didn’t appreciate the publicity. Yet here’s that photo again because it really illustrates my point.

Who takes pictures of their own toes in a past-its-prime blanket?

Who takes pictures of their own toes in a past-its-prime blanket?

We have lots of dear ones over for dinner on a regular basis. Each time, I use trivets that were probably given to my parents as wedding gifts over 50 years ago. The cork covering has degraded pretty badly, but they deflect heat as well as they ever did.

Useful, just unattractive.

Useful, just unattractive.

I also use the best hot pads ever. These were crocheted in tight little stitches by my grandmother sometime in the 1960’s. They still work perfectly even if marred by scorch marks. I’ve tried all sorts of replacements, from thermal fabric to silicone. Nothing is as flexible and washable as these handmade circles sewn together. If I could buy such crocheted hot pads, I would.

In use for decades. Stained but still perfectly functional.

Our towels are, as you might imagine, pretty tattered. Of course they absorb moisture as well as they did when their side seams were perfect.

Absorbent yet tattered.

Absorbent yet tattered.

We actually do buy new things. I can prove it.

The comforter on our bed had been worn through for years. I repaired it over and over until the fabric got so thin that it simply split. It had also been indelibly stained. I remember the origins of some of those stains. Like the time one of my son’s friends came in our bedroom late at night to seek our counsel on some apparently vital matter, sitting on the edge of our bed (with bib overalls greasy from working on his car in our garage) while chatting with my husband and me. Those stains wouldn’t launder out.

Bedspread of 20 years.

Bedspread of 20 years.

We used it with peek-a-boo batting for years until we broke down and bought a (severely marked down) bedspread. “A new bedspread? Who are you?” my daughter asked, “It’s like I don’t know you any more.”

Something new. It happens, even here.

Something new. It happens, even here.

There’s a heightened beauty in things we use everyday. I see it in our daily tablecloth, our heirloom serving dishes, our antique furniture. I like the sense of completion that comes when using something fully.  We’re supposed to use ourselves up too.

While we’re not defined by our things, they do say quite a bit about us. I guess I’ve said this already in a poem I tossed in my book Tending. Nuff said.

Object Lesson  

18 and in love

I heard

Too young.

Won’t last.

Yet each solid thing unwrapped

from fussy wedding paper

made it real.

The cutting board

too thin to last

split into kindling.

Paint chipped off leaky flowerpots

used until they cracked.

Bath towels, coarse and cheap,

wore down to barn rags.

Bed sheets, gone to tatters, torn

to tie tomato plants and peonies.

One last gift, a satin-edged coverlet

saved for good till every other blanket

fell to pieces. Pretty but polyester,

it too frayed to shreds.

Nothing temporal

remains inviolate.

All that’s left are

clear glass canisters

holding exactly what we put in them

right here on the counter

for us to see

each day of our long marriage.

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of four books and served as 2019 Ohio Poet of the Year. She's the editor of Braided Way: Faces & Voices of Spiritual Practice. She works as a book editor, teaches writing workshops, and maxes out her library card each week.
This entry was posted in frugality, gratitude, poem, repurposing, simple living and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Use Till Tattered

  1. Helen says:

    Another lovely, thoughtful post. One of the things I try to save forever is old friends….

  2. I can crochet tight little circle hot pads. They have to be in cotton. I’ve just finished a set in purple and black.

  3. katechiconi says:

    My crochet is pretty bad, otherwise I’d make some to give you. But The Snail of Happiness is a shining light in recycling, mending and making do, and she does some impressive crochet, including recovering her entire sofa (still a WIP). Why don’t you take a look? I think you’d enjoy her blog:

  4. Linda says:

    Love, love, love this post!!! It brings me back to a simpler time in my life.

    My parents also washed out plastic bags and re-used and re-purposed as much as they could. And, at 87, my mother still does. Not the plastic bags anymore, but much of everything else she did way back when. She still carefully pulls the tape off prettily-wrapped gifts to re-use the wrapping paper!!! lol

    Glad to see someone else has the same tattered towels, worn-out hot pads and blankets as I do!!! (Actually, my towels are in worse shape than yours!!! lol) It really is time for me to get new ones, but the old, tattered ones won’t be discarded. They will be used as rags. I keep everything for future use. My husband isn’t too thrilled that I keep so much, but, I look at it this way… as long as I don’t live in a hoarder house, I think I’m good!!! lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s