Leaving a Trail

The way we were raised


There it was! —the loose white thread in the corner. A “rrriiipp” resounded through the garage as I tugged the string. Just like that, the fifty-pound bag of chicken feed gaped open, ready for scooping. A zig-zaggy length of flimsy string dangled from my right hand.

All at once, a long-ago picture flashed into my mind: I saw Mom’s adept fingers searching for the unbound end. She spotted it and quickly threaded it through a loop of the thick red thread. “You just have to undo the first few stitches and you can pull them right out. Then we can use the bag again when it is empty.”

The musty odor of the burlap bag filled my senses as I stood next to my mother that February day. The sewn-shut sack leaned into the weathered framework of the barn as mom worked on it. In a matter of seconds, the top of the bag sagged open and a zig-zaggy red tie dangled from her hand. My seven-year-old eyes saw Super Mom.

I watched as she undid two buttons on her heavy coat and tucked the string into her apron pocket. Later in the kitchen I would wind that length of cotton onto the ball we kept in the pencil drawer. I never questioned why we saved string. I just knew it was handy to have around.

We saved paperclips and rubber bands that came with the mail. We saved pins. Mom’s pincushion was full of every length and type of pin imaginable. There were some with pearlescent plastic heads that came on corsages. There were short ones with tiny heads that were used in garment packaging. Mom kept ribbons and pieces of lace and ric rac. Every button was removed from worn-out shirts, pajamas, and coats before they went in the rag bag. A stash of buttons was always on hand, ready to replace one we lost from a favorite shirt.

Food containers, paper bags, glass jars, coffee cans, wooden spools and thick cigar boxes were potential resources for work and play, and we used them for both.

We saved, re-used and repurposed everything we could. Nothing was wasted. It didn’t matter if a bit of time and effort was involved; it was worth it. After all, a penny saved was a penny earned. It was what we were taught. It was the way we grew up.

Our parents had no other option. They grew up during the Great Depression and then World War II. Money was scarce, so people got by with very little. Later, the war required rationing. Rubber, metals and food were needed for our soldiers. Folks learned to get along without them or grow their own. They raised their children, our parents’ generation, to do the same.

Mom and Dad started out with two horses and a single-blade plow. Wooden peach crates and a rocking chair furnished their farm kitchen. When the children came along, we were taught to save and make do with what we had. We didn’t question it; it was the way of life back then and we figured everyone lived that way.

The crinkled string in my hand suddenly whisks my brain back to the garage and the bag of feed. I smile at my memories and tuck the string into my coat pocket. Later I will wind it around my saved ball of string. Why buy string when I have a perfectly good supply in my pencil drawer?

I shake out the plastic sack that I just emptied. I flatten it and place it on top of a growing stack. I will save them—make some into grocery bags. They should not be wasted.

Because that’s the way I was raised!

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Do you know someone who would smile at the memories? Putting On the Big Boots, Back to Forward, and Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, compilations of the stories from the author’s columns, along with her Promises to Keep series, are available on Amazon. Signed copies can also be purchased at the Harrison County Welcome Center AND the Loess Hills Visitor Center & Gift Shop in Moorhead. All make excellent gifts! Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com