My grandpa was of the Depression Era. Sustainability wasn’t “a thing” back then — it was just the way you lived. Though he was raised in a time when you were thankful to be able to put a good meal on the table, he likely had a standard of life that we would consider average or middle class today. He didn’t grow up in a slum or shanty town, but he did understand the value of hard work and, because of that, when he spent his money on something he would make it last. As a child, I didn’t think much about him living a sustainable life. In fact, I didn’t know what that meant or that he was doing it. Now, as an adult when I reflect on the things he did, I can see it and I can appreciate it.
My grandpa was a gardener. From spring until fall, he was always in his garden. I am certain he grew many vegetables, but what stands out in my memory are the deep purple grapes on the vine that I always thought were sour, the zucchini and summer squash that he snuck into my morning eggs and I picked out, and his green beans and tomatoes, which I would love to taste now but as a child I avoided like the plague. He spent hours every week in his garden so that he could feed his family the freshest, most delicious vegetables all summer, because to him it was important to do it himself.
Even when he didn’t need to, he re-used what he had. I was often surprised when I would take a cardboard milk carton out of the fridge and instead of pouring a cold glass of milk I got homemade soups or pasta sauce. When he made his morning eggs, he would use up the raw scrambled egg residue by adding flour in the bowl and rolling it until it was a ball. He would then toss the ball into a container in the freezer, and when the container was full he would turn his egg balls into pasta. He hated any wasted food and always did his best to find creative uses for everything.
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Grandpa was a neat person. He didn’t like clutter, but he also did not like to waste objects that he felt could have multiple uses. If he ended up with a wooden crate, he would put wheels on the bottom and make it a garden trolley. No piece of paper was thrown away until it was completely full on both sides, and all jars or containers were always washed out and used to house random, small objects or scraps. The house was full of washed out baby food jars, because who knew when you might need one for paper clips.
I can remember that in the evenings my grandpa would take me on walks. We never walked without a plastic bag, because if we came across a piece of trash he could not let it stay on the ground. We typically took the same route every time we took these walks and we would go near a grocery store. If we happened to come across any pop cans along the way, we would stop by the grocery store to retrieve our nickels. As a reward for picking up trash and cans, he would let me use the nickels to get bulk candy.
Before recycling or upcycling was popular and trendy, my grandpa was doing it just because it was who he was and what he did. In many ways you could say he was celebrating Earth Day every day. I am not a master at reusing like my grandpa was but maybe someday, if I keep trying, I can be more like he was. (For more information about Earth Day, visit Earthday.org.)
Editor’s note: Kelly Pope Keller, an Olean resident, is a Canticle Farm volunteer and wrote this column for the farm’s Earth Day newsletter. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and an MBA from St. Bonaventure University. Her grandfather, Boniface Pope, earned a BBA from St. Bonaventure in 1950 – on the GI Bill. He was my uncle.
-- Anne Lee, Co-editor, TAPinto Greater Olean, St. Bonaventure Class of 1976
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