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I Have Become My Mother, And Not In a Bad Way

June 30, 2010

Heirloom Tomato, “Indiana Red” from Saved Seeds

Mother, I’m sorry for being embarrassed or poking fun at you for saving everything. Now that I have become you, I understand completely. Your reason for saving everything was not the same as my reasons are now, but I think you’d be smiling if you could see me now.

When I carefully smooth out a used piece of aluminum foil or save a plastic bag that food came in, I think of all the times you scraped the butter off the paper wrapper and saved all the little aluminum pie tins for flower pot trays.

When I cut down a plastic container to make a scoop out of it, I think of all the ordinary things you treasured like the lard can lids that served as your biscuit pans for years.

When I shop at the thrift store for art clothes, I think of the times I was embarrassed to wear my sister’s hand-me-downs that you lovingly re-fashioned for me.

When I stopped coloring my hair because of the chemicals, the expense, and the bother, I could see your picture in my mind — one that changed very little over the years, because your hair was always natural, never sprayed, permed, or fussed over.

When I paint over a canvas sometimes two or three times, I think about all the painting surfaces you used — old barn boards, your own canvas glued onto masonite, and even cardboard. You even saved all the little cardboard reinforcements from inside Daddy’s laundered shirts for kids to draw and paint on.

When I recycle leftovers, I think about all those little bits of food you used to save, the potato water you would not pour out. There would always be soup using those bits and broth.

When I plant a seed and experience the joy of watching a garden grow, I think of all of your little cuttings in water containers, the seeds you saved, and the gardens you grew.

Having lived through the Great Depression, you could not live any other way. You told me so many stories about that time. You told me how Daddy and my uncles made furniture to sell when there were no jobs. How you cried when Daddy needed a dime for a pack of cigarettes and you were pregnant with our sister, and it was the last dime in the house. It seemed so long ago and far away that it was like a fairy tale to my young ears. After all, I grew up in the midst of the postwar boom with all its conspicuous consumption. It wasn’t fashionable to conserve.

And now my reasons for recycling are not that I have ever had to want for basic necessities. Mine are that I know we are fast running out of resources. And I know that this is somehow all connected to the situation we find ourselves in — a race for time to try to save our planet. I have to do it, because I believe that everything makes a difference. And I have to do it because I am your daughter. I look in the mirror and I see you.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2010 4:29 pm

    Oh, Martha, this is oh so beautifully written. You’re such a good writer, I love this piece!

  2. June 30, 2010 4:33 pm


  3. June 30, 2010 7:16 pm

    Martha, I love this piece… such a powerful important story beautifully told. If you were closer I would leap up and give you squeeze kind of hug before wiping the soft tears from my eyes. Terrill:)

  4. June 30, 2010 8:26 pm

    Beautiful. Excuse me, I have to go call my mom…

  5. June 30, 2010 9:04 pm

    Have to run get a tissue…hugs…

  6. Sandra permalink
    June 30, 2010 9:18 pm

    What a lovely tribute to your Mother, who sounds to have been a wonderful person. I can just so relate to it too, as I was brought up by grandparents who had lived through two wars and the depression. Like you I didn’t really relate to Gran’s thrifty ways, but do seem to have a tendency to make things last as long as possible, even when I don’t have to. And I think that those of us who grew up before debt fuelled consumption became normal are coping better now.

    • June 30, 2010 10:43 pm

      Sandra, I think we end up honoring those things that we’re taught early on, even if they didn’t seem to make an impression at the time.

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