Historically Speaking: Waste not, want not
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
Those of us who have survived the Great Depression during the 1930s seem to have a tendency toward “thrift” more so than those who didn’t live through this low economic period in our history. We carry over into our present lives some of the thrifty ideas and can always “make do” with what we have on hand, whether it be substituting some ingredients in a recipe or saving jelly glasses!
I still have a handy ball of string in my junk drawer and I add to it once in a while, although string is not used much anymore, with many kinds of tape and twisters. Wire of all kinds was saved by my father in his workshop, rolled into loops and sorted as to the use it could have in the future. And he did use it often, fixing toys and in use around the farm.
To conserve our wood supply for the kitchen stove and the heater, in the summertime we would soak newspaper in water, then form it into round balls the size of a baseball, and let the sun dry them into large hard pellets which were used for fuel, especially in the old kitchen range. Corn cobs were used and also some folk used dried “cow pies” for fuel. Birch bark off fallen trees was gathered to start the stoves in the mornings; some of the prettier pieces were used for handicraft projects, such as miniature canoes and teepees. All shapes of jars and glasses were saved for jellies and juices. Tin cans were used for bedding plants in the spring. Mother saved egg shells and these were crushed and put into the garden soil. The innards of the fish we caught were buried in the garden and were excellent fertilizer. Dad cut our hair and even that was not wasted – it was put in the garden and seemed effective to keep the deer out of the vegetables. Rainwater was caught and used for watering plants, but mainly for washing our hair; it was excellent because it contained so many minerals. In the fall, the choice seeds were saved for next year’s planting. Flower seeds as well as vegetable seeds were saved to insure the best of plants the next season.
Dad had a glass cutter and with this he could salvage small glass panes out of broken window panes. Nothing was wasted. He sharpened the knives, saws, axes, sickles and scythe blades himself and also did some of this for the neighbors. Whenever possible, used nails were straightened and reused. Nails and screws were always removed from old lumber in much the same way that mother always saved the buttons, lace, rick-rack, elastic and appliqués from clothing that was worn out. Then these old pieces of fabric, softened and thin from use were used for dusting and scrubbing. There was always a jar of safety pins, straight pins and snaps near her sewing machine.
I mentioned the saving of string. We also saved tin foil whenever we could find any. We rolled it into a ball and together with any old automobile tires we could find, we would bring them to Urbanks second-hand store which was located somewhere near where Pomps Tires is today. We would get a few pennies for each tire and depending on how big the ball of foil was we would get a dime or so. Mother cut up the old worn out cotton stockings into strings and from this she made rugs for the bedrooms to help cover the bare floor. Blouses, aprons, dresses and curtains were made from printed flour sacks. Pillows were re-stuffed yearly with new soft feathers from the ducks. This was quite a job and the air was filled with the tiny fluffy feathers that got away as the stuffing process was going on.
Before we got our new barn, we had an old log barn, and each fall we went to the swamp to gather moss to push between the logs; in a year’s time it would dry out and each year new moss was needed. While we were on this errand to the swamp, we would perhaps find some pitch from the balsam trees. It was tasty chewing gum!
Among other thrifty practices we made use of each day was brushing our teeth with baking soda. It was good for the teeth but we were careful not to swallow any. For paste, we mixed flour and water and used this for our arts and crafts. Sweaters, socks and mittens were “run up” and the yarn used to re-knit clothing or some of it was used for darning. Mother did a lot of darning and patching, and every scrap of good solid cloth was saved along with the usable yarn from other knitted clothing.
Bacon grease was used in various ways, for frying potatoes and making gravies, but not for baking. Mother had lard for this purpose. I do recall my parents using goose grease for colds. It was rubbed on the chest and then woolen material placed over it. It was said that it loosened a chest cold. I never had to use any and I guess I was lucky; I would have felt like a greasy goose but it was probably better than skunk grease which some people used for colds. Phew!
There was a compost heap in one corner of the far garden and it was here that potato peels and vegetable scrapings were piled and left to decompose by the next planting time. My father would turn it over every once in a while to help it ripen.
Water was a precious commodity, even though we lived on the banks of the Wisconsin River, and good pure well water was wonderful for drinking on a hot summer day. Dish water was used for watering the garden in the summer and once a week or so the rinse water was used for scrubbing the kitchen and back porch floor. Then the outdoor toilet was scrubbed from top to bottom before the water was thrown into the garden area. I have often wondered about the soap in the water, but it didn’t seem to hurt the plants at all. My father said the soap helped to keep the bugs off the plants!
We do our share of recycling today, and I firmly believe we should take better care of our resources and also of our homes and possessions. I see so much waste and throwing away of things that could be fixed back into working condition. But with the present emphasis on our nature resources perhaps there will be a return to thrift again. I surely hope so! Waste not, want not.