Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gathering Up the Fragments

     We have a new barn out in our hayfield. It seems as if it grew up overnight with the hay. Joe has dreamed of building this particular barn for the last twenty years, but as ever, my Scotch-Irish husband waited until he had the financial means to do it before starting. But now, when I look out my window towards the north end of the field, there it is. We chose to build a red barn because, really, is there any other color suitable?
     When Glen Jr. had put the last nail in place, we drove out to inspect. There were piles of leftover tin and boards everywhere and like good country folk, we began to gather up the scraps and plan for their use. Although we made a pile for the dump, we also made piles for kindling, piles for patching and piles for doghouse building. Living as far as we do from a Home Depot or Lowes means we carefully consider what we throw away and what we save. Thank goodness we have outbuildings to keep our recycled treasures in. I’ve discovered that “if you build it, it will fill.” I’m sure that new barn will be full of things we can’t live without in a couple of years.
     I like to recycle the old pieces of metal that I find lying around by making them into wind-chimes and have even snipped some old tin roofing into stars for our Christmas tree. Used baler twine is good for emergency gate latches, staking tomatoes, and can even be woven into a sturdy fence patch. When Joe takes down a section of old woven wire fence, he rolls it up. Much of it is still serviceable for tomato cages. And if it’s too old for that then it can be mashed up and used for erosion control.
     Things don’t go to waste in the house, either. Ratty tee shirts are cut up for rags or torn into cotton strips for rugs. Mayonnaise jars, before the companies started using plastic, made great canning jars. Food scraps go to the chickens. Old cardboard boxes are torn into strips and saved for emergency kindling. Worn out socks become dusting mitts, and newspapers can be used as mulch in the garden.
     Joe’s mom, Geneva, was the master of repurposing. Growing up during the depression gave her a strong need to hold on to things in case they could be used for something else. The first day I opened her fridge a pile of butter wrappers fluttered to the floor. She was saving them to grease cookie pans. She also had a cookie tin full of buttons she’d cut off of old shirts and several attractive stools in her house she’d made from fruit juice cans and scraps of fabric. Windshield glass from broken down cars became colored mosaic candle holders and lamp shades. Joe never wore the legs out of a pair of jeans, because every time he tore a hole in them, she would cut up an old pair and make a sturdy patch. She also taught me how to turn shirt collars so the frayed edge was underneath.
     When Geneva was alive, I always knew that if I needed something, I could go prowl through one of the twelve rooms in her house and I would probably find exactly what I was looking for, or something that could be used in its place. Her most unusual repurpose was the time she cut up hundreds of bread bags into strips which she crocheted into pocket books and placemats.
     Many of our older neighbors also have the recycle, repurpose, reuse bug. Glen Jr. ( the same one who built the barn) went out last winter when there was twenty inches of snow on the ground and removed each of the huge icicles that hung from his eaves. He cut them into chunks, some as big as three loaves of bread, and carried them to his freezer where he stored them until we dug them out last week. We chipped them up, threw them in the churn with a bunch of salt and cranked out some truly old-fashioned home-made ice-cream. It could be my imagination, but I believe it tasted sweeter because it was made with the last icy breath of a really hard winter.

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