Face Cloths & Trash Mountains

My sister and I sit at the dining room table, post-breakfast, half-finished coffee cups between us. We’re in Florida on a short holiday with our parents, a rare treat, since I can’t remember our even taking vacations together when we were kids, let alone at our advanced ages of forty-two and fifty-one.

We’re fixed on our laptop screens, she and I, checking in with business and domestic crises at home. My dad comes downstairs, still in his pajamas, with a beard of white shaving cream. He would looks like Santa Claus, but for his still-dark hair.

“Where’s mom?” he asks. “In the laundry room?”

My sister and I nod. He heads through the kitchen, opens the garage door, peers out to where the washer and dryer are.

“Juney, Is there a face cloth out there or do you want me to get a new one?”

My sister and I look at each other. Dad trundles out to the garage. There is a low exchange of words with my mother, though we can’t hear what is said. Dad returns, no facecloth in hand, makes his way back up the stairs. The door of the linen closet squeaks open, closes again. The bathroom tap is turned on.

Consider this: my dad came all the way downstairs, mid-way through his morning ablutions, to ask if there is a less-than-fresh facecloth he should be using rather than grabbing a clean one from the linen closet that is immediately beside the bathroom. The transaction cost of this decision was – what – five minutes? Is this not highly unusual behaviour in our drive-thru, I-need-it-now world?

This economy-of-use mentality is what I grew up with. A respect for the innate usefulness of just about anything. A suspicion of anything disposable or at least due consideration as to whether said disposable item might in fact be re-used, re-shaped, or otherwise saved for future use. There was no ‘recycling’ when I was a kid, apart from taking glass pop bottles back to the store for return of deposit.

Wonder bags hanging from the clothes line.

Twist ties and bread-bag clips kept in kitchen drawer.

Margarine tubs kept and re-used. This was in the days before the miracle of Ziplock® (and may I point out the re-usability of Ziplock containers, not to get all defensive or anything).

It is easy to write any of these items off as innately trash-able. But to my parents, born in the mid-ninety-thirties, well, they just don’t see it that way.

My world isn’t like that. My kids use towels once then expect them to be washed. My fault, I know. I am a compulsive launderer. The steel pot I ruined? Garbage. Granted, that was only after it was rejected from the metal recycling. Plastic bags? Oh, for pete’s sakes, don’t even ask.

And then there’s electronics.

A month or so ago, I took my daughter’s portable DVD player back to the local Big Box electronics retailer for repair under warranty. She’d had it less than a year before it ceased to play. A week later, I got a call from the store.

“It is not worth repairing,” the caller explained. “If you bring in the accessories, we’ll replace it for you.”

I was pleased, and yet, there was something unsavoury about this transaction. I envisioned a mountain of ‘not worth repairing’ electronics, my daughters red DVD player, its guts hanging out, tossed carelessly on top, by some young guy drinking Red Bull. How much does this cost? What do they do with that stuff? Is it not, somehow, re-usable?

I don’t know. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I should.

And what would my parents have done? I don’t know that either. It is a different world than the one I grew up in the 1970s, even for them. Despite the facecloth.

It’s a good rule to follow, though, don’t you think? What my father did out of habit. To at least give something a second look. Not to start something fresh without due consideration as to whether something already in play is just as good.  To stop and ask if that not-yet-mildewed facecloth is still available for use rather than automatically reaching for a clean one – the sacred pause, no? A pause to weigh a certain frugality against a trash mountain, and to decide which is really the better place to worship.