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I have finally tricked my entire family into recycling. Recycling in the traditional sense though. Cardboard, shredded paper, plastics and Styrofoam separation have all become a part of my everyday life. I cannot believe how irritated I become when I see something that could be recycled in the trash can.
I yell out, “Who put the toilet paper roll in the trash can. You know it is cardboard and can be recycled!”
In return I hear nothing but the next time the toilet paper roll is in the recycle can. Over the years, it has become easier to recycle. We are realizing that it saves money and the environment. Besides those who pay taxes in Lansing at least already pay for it on their tax bill so why not take advantage of pick up on trash day and downsize the amount of trash bags you have to purchase.
I have been a recycling nut since I was in college. Back then recycling meant taking your worn shoes to the shoemaker to get new heels instead of throwing them away. It also meant using paper bags and newspapers to wrap presents in. My mother was a pioneer in the art of recycling but in a different way.
For my mother, it meant a lot of different things. She loved to recycle clothing too. In her book it meant to let out the stitching where she originally took it in. Of course she brought the skirt or pants big because “you are going to grow into it”. She also sewed a lot so the seams were always twice as wide so she could take out the stitching and resew it. We wore a lot of matching clothing back then.
I remember her measuring our waists, and pinning the excess fabric and her sewing back and forth. As a child, I would always think about why she just did not buy us clothes that fit right. I really hated wearing handmade clothing. Now I am ever so grateful for anything that she sews or knits for me.
As I grew up and began to think that my mother did the right thing. I cannot believe how many things that my children never wore or only wore a couple of times. My mother would have surely found good use for every piece of clothing that came into the home. She even made pocketbooks out of old jeans.
When I was a child, my mother had a compost pile and everything went in it. We had a blackberry tree and she used it to dye fabric with. She was quite the recycler but in a different way.
I recently decided to winterize my lawn. I have never done it before because my grass used to be beautiful. When our streets were ripped apart and then repaved of course the grass was damaged iin the process. They came and laid the dirt and reseeded, either the dirt or the seeds were all of the “weed” variety. The dust from the constantly moving trucks also made it difficult to do anything to my lawn for two years.
It was chilly this summer morning and I had my spreader and felt was ready to conquer the world. I had on a hat and gloves but I had a goal. It was 8:00 am. I figured it was early enough.
I started to laugh because I was acting just like my mother. She would wake up at the crack of dawn to pick weeds because the dew made the ground soft.
My mother also has “lawn clothes” which are recycled old clothing that she just refuses to throw away. I laughed again because it is still summer but I had on a hat and gloves.
I thought, “Oh my goodness, I hope no one really thinks that I am a serious gardner or lawn professional! No, Rina they will just think you are a little crazy in your hat and gloves.”
All I could do was giggle and talk to myself about how crazy my thoughts were. At least today, people would assume I was talking on a cell phone with an ear piece if they saw me. I had on a hat and some gloves for crying out loud. My mother would have been out there with a sailor's hat and navy blue plastic raincoat and boots with little white ducks on them.
I thought she would not care so why should I (even though you look ridiculous). Sure enough, the first turn I made with my spreader, I was waving to someone in a car at the stop sign.
On my next turn, I stared at the lamb's ear, which is a plant that feels very soft and the leaves are shaped like a lamb's ear, I recalled my mother's garden. But not before I hoped it would rain in two days so I would not waste water.
My mother grew her own vegetable and flower gardens and she also canned a couple of times. Mint grew everywhere in her garden and entwined with the vines of her strawberries. All four of her children hated being outside weeding and carrying on. We wanted to play as my mother would yell iin her thick Caribbean accent, “Go, get me the broom.”
There were many times I am sure that we wanted to reply, “Go get it yourself!”
But for fear of losing our permanent teeth, we retrieved the broom, the dustpan, a variety of handtools, the lawn mower, the trash bags, the pine bark, the fertilizer and anything else she commanded us to do.
My mother never went to get anything she forgot to bring to her particular worksite. I am pleased to say that she still does it today, even when she comes to visit. I am grateful because I know that she does it because she can and not because she is losing mobility.
As a child I would watch her on her hands and knees in the garden and she would say, “Go get me the thing ” or “Go get me that”. We would stare at each other and look at the shed door because there was a lot of “things and thats” in the shed. We often wondered if we should take turns and figured out that the person who stood furthest away from her would usually be the “ go get this or that” person.
My mother was a monster in the yard. We spent long hours tending to it. We were so happy when she got an edger because before that it was a huge knife. I watched her as she hacked away at the neighbors willow tree whose leaves hung over our property. She always would mention how the willow tree roots would cause damage to her sprinkler system as she hacked. I guess it was a release for her.
I wonder what my life would be like if she were not my mother. She was powerful yet beautiful and being in the yard transformed her after we moved from Brooklyn, New York. I would watch her walk around with her shoes off. She marked where all of her plants would go with lime slowly pouring out of her cupped hand. She said the lime was also good for the sandy soil.
Slowly flowers began to emerge in her cherished gardens - pinks, blues, yellows, lavenders and burnt oranges. The more she learned about flowers the more she learned how to recycle them too. She dried marigolds for the seeds and a whole assortment of other seeds from other flowers most llooked like poppy seeds to me. She would split plants and trade flowers and bulbs with others, all the while not spending a dime.
At sign of first snow, my mother would rush home and get her spreader out and put some grass seeds in it. We, her children, would be rolling our eyes because it was usually at 10:00 pm after arriving home from a winter holiday gathering. My mother would be outside spreading grass seeds under a snowy moonlit sky “so we would have a lusher greener lawn the next year”.
I smiled and thought, “My neighbors probably think I am just as crazy as our New York neighbors thought my mother was crazy. It is going to be 75 degrees today but it was freezing this morning.” I was making excuses.
I pushed my little spreader faster feeling as though I really was accomplishing something and thought about my mother again.
She moved to Georgia, she still piddles around and has a riding lawnmower. She has planted gardens in her woods area in her backyard.
When I call her she has usually has something funny to say about her neighbors who mowed their llawn and did not sweep up afterward. I imagined her telling her neighbors to go get the broom!
She recently asked me to send her a box of lamb's ears. She told me how to wrap the roots in wet paper towel and put them in a plastic bag. I was sure that they would arrive in Georgia shriveled and dried because I did not wrap them right. I imagined that the postal police would call me and tell me that I should not be sending agricultural goods through the mail without a horticultural license.
The lamb's ears arrived at her home safely. However, I call her for three days straight prior to their arrival asking, “Did they get there yet?”
On the day they arrived, she proudly said, “ Oh, these plants are hearty. You did good! I will talk to you later, I need to put them in a bucket of rain water.”
Who does that? Who still collects rain water? I laughed as I hung up. My mother with her recycling craziness.
I beamed through the phone, I wondered if she could feel the warmth of my pride! I thought back to the grumbling under my breath that I was doing while digging up the lamb's ears. I complained to myself, “Why doesn’t she just buy some! Does she not know that Michigan is in a drought and the dirt is hard as heck!”
When she called she said she needed them right away. I finally got them out of the dirt and figured I should put them in a bucket of hose water for a day. I did not have any rain water. My goodness.
The next day, I found a box and called her again for instruction about how to send them. She responded by quickly blurting out the instructions, telling me I was thinking about it too much and hanging up because she herself was working on her lawn.
So when she told me everything had turned out well. I felt great. My mother planted Michigan plants in Georgia. They were my plants that I had nutured enough to “recycle”. My mother may have different ways of reusing but now when I go to visit her I will feel more at home because I will see a piece of Michigan.
So I finished my 20 minute fertilizer spreading project and sat on my porch as if I had just walked 5 acres. My grass area is small but I had to be dramatic. I was sweating like a beast in that hat but I winterized my grass. We will see how “lush” it is next year.
I sat back and thought about my childhood and I realized that I am my mother's child. I recycle and resuse a lot of things. My recycling bin is always overflowing on pick up day. I have mint, rosemary and basil growing in my backyard. I will not be spreading grass seeds in the winter but the memories of my mother doing so, always brings a smile to my face.
As I prepare for the spring, I will think about my mother and how she cherishes her garden and lawn. I think about her riding wildly on her tractor in Georgia. It is amazing how it calms her to piddle around outside after an intense work week. I am not sure if I will pick up that habit.
I can hear her saying, “This is my home and I enjoy working outside at first light.”
I personally am just pleased that I still get to be a part of her “recycling craziness” and there is a little bit of me and Michigan growing in her garden.
P.S. While having a business lunch at the restaurant were my oldest son Gianni works, the manager came over to talk to me about him. She told me that he came to her to discuss the landscaping at the restaurant and asked her if he could spruce up the property a bit. Ah ha, that is what it is all about. I smiled broadly and thanked her for telling me. I often concentrate on what is not perfect in my eyes. When I told him about it he said, “I spent many hours with you in our yard, so I know what I am doing.” I laughed and wanted to ask him, “Did I always ask you to get the broom?”
I did not because I feared his answer would be yes.
This was printed in the September 25, 2011 - October 8, 2011 edition