That Green Thing

by Joan Vernikos

The following anecdote and related article is about living “green” and how in bygone years our lifestyles were less reliant on the many conveniences of modern life. And there’s a valuable extra takeaway in there.
“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.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator 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 clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power 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 is 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 (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state 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 plastic 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 using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza 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?”

As you might imagine, what struck me about this post isn’t so much about the “green” movement. For me this story illustrates the significant changes that have taken place within only a few generations in the level of activity that was required in daily life. Non-exercise activities, including the several common ones highlighted here, kept the older among us and our parents slim and healthy without going to the gym or running 10K’s.

In the modern world we tend to rely on technologies that have minimized our habits of being active all day with these non-exercise activities (NEATs). Our reliable and plentiful powered vehicles have almost eliminated the need for self-propulsion. We hop on an electric gym-treadmill rather than take a walk or ride a bicycle down the road to accomplish a task. Our huge refrigerator-freezers and the readily-available packaged and processed foods means we no longer need to plan and cook meals. Elevators and escalators have mostly replaced walking upstairs. Clothes-dryers have eliminated the need to carry laundry outside to hang on a line, and wrinkle-free garments and dry cleaners have nearly eliminated the activity we got from ironing (although I am not complaining about doing less ironing!). The vacuum cleaner replaced the broom, and we know that pushing (or even riding) a powered mower is a heck of a lot less strenuous than pushing a human-powered one.

Back “in the day,” in the process of living an ordinary existence, our lives were replete with activity. At the same time we used less heating and transportation fuels. And we hadn’t been taken over yet by the throwaway culture that developed so quickly starting in the 1950’s. We washed empty containers and re-used them, used very little plastic, had no paper towels, and consequently had much smaller household ecological footprints. So perhaps we were green before anyone called it that.

And we certainly did not have to worry about sitting too much back then; sitting was a luxury. And when we did sit we usually accomplished something – knitting or sewing, talking with each other. And yes, we danced a lot more then too.
Conditions were more conducive to leading a healthy lifestyle precisely because we had so much daily activity. Maybe backwards isn't such a bad way to go.


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  3. Someone read this to me today and I just thought, "Amen!"

  4. Hi Joan,
    You idea about is awesome !! you are really a Genius.

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