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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
18 and in love
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.
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.