Commentary: The 'green' old days

The San Luis Obispo TribuneMarch 10, 2012 

Five years ago, I began to involuntarily receive AARP’s magazine and a membership card good for any number of discounts for seniors. Jeez, I thought with a certain sense of violation, I didn’t ask to be rounded up with a herd of geezer baby boomers — as oxymoronic as that sounds.

Yet it’s true. That gray-bearded stranger staring back at me in the bathroom mirror each morning is indeed moi. With that in mind, I’ve decided to accept the fact that I’m walking the last few holes on the back nine of life. Will I lapse into the curmudgeonly old man yelling at kids to get their football off my lawn? Will I reminisce, like Dana Carvey’s angry old coot on “Saturday Night Live,” about hitting myself in the face with a bag of broken glass … and liking it? Yikes.

I don’t know, but the following may be an indicator of some such direction. It’s an email that was forwarded to me by an elder statesman of San Luis Obispo — Ken Schwartz — for whom I have the greatest admiration. And it goes like this: “Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

“The woman apologized and explained, ‘We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.’

“The clerk responded, ‘That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.’

“She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

“Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

“Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, which we then used for numerous things. Most memorable besides being used as household garbage bags, (was that) we used the bags to cover our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books. But, too bad, we didn’t do the green thing back then.

“We walked up stairs because we didn’t have elevators in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right: We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

“Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind; we dried our clothes on a line, not in a machine. Wind and solar really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady was right: We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

“Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.

“When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it; not Styrofoam or bubble wrap.

“Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right: We didn’t have the green thing back then.

“We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of a plastic bottle when we wanted some water. If a razor got dull, we replaced the blade rather than throwing the whole thing away. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

“Back then, kids rode their bikes to school, or walked, instead of turning our moms into 24-hour taxi services. We didn’t need a computer to receive a signal beamed from a satellite out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

“But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

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