The Recyclers

Don’t you dare throw that out. — Mom

Our introduction came early. If food scraps didn’t make it into Dad’s creations, they ended up in the compost pile next to the garage. Now, decades later, that might be the most fertile soil in all The Garden State. But his passion for recycling extended far beyond food.

When it snowed, all the neighborhood kids sprinted to Maryann Place; a short, steep, and as long as friends stopped traffic at the bottom, a safe hill to slide down on a flexible flyer, toboggan, or in our case, a hollowed-out refrigerator door.

After years of steady service, our old Frigidaire finally conked out. The bullet bit, a new one soon replaced it. Having no further use, hauling the spent one, intact, to the curb on junk day would have been a fitting farewell, unless you were my dad. He said goodbye only to the cabinet. The door had a new purpose, a reincarnation per se. Once stripped of its chrome handle, shelves and insulation, and after adding a piece of rope to hold on to for dear life, that door did what no sled could. It provided a pilot and six willing passengers thirty thrilling seconds of fun, much to the envy of all onlookers, many of whom lined up for their turn.

Things that left our house, whether broken, obsolete, or even dangerous, rarely left for long. If there was any chance of a new life, Dad stuffed it in the rafters above his workshop, in the crawl space behind the laundry chute, or in the garage that never in my lifetime housed a car. I guess you could say there was a method to his madness. The normal cycle went like this. When something could no longer continue its intended purpose, Dad moved it to the basement. If Mom or one of us found it, we’d put it out on the curb on junk day. Upon returning from work, Dad would rescue and hide it in the garage until that day came for repurposing.

I discovered much of his handiwork while renovating the house. He built a bathroom with a hodge-podge of wood, chicken wire, nails, nuts, bolts, and parts of a piano. He insulated all hot-water pipes with multiple layers of used plastic newspaper bags secured with—his always at the ready—silver duct tape. He turned pie tins into lamp shades and shoelaces into lamp cords. And he stored his shop tools in a variety of what-was-once-quality-furniture.

It’s fair to attribute my father’s “waste not want not” passion to surviving the Great Depression. But as I discovered in 1995, it goes back much further. Behind the family home Celle San Vito, Italy, where no Porro had been in over one hundred years, we found a pile of junk. Dad picked up a piece and on camera I caught him saying, “This must be why we don’t throw anything out at home.” Recycling is in our genes, passed down for generations. And though my sisters and I have done well in controlling those hereditary tendencies, my brothers have not been so lucky.

Mom also grew up during the Depression-era and like Dad seldom threw anything out. But unlike Dad, that didn’t stop her from buying new things. However, she redecorated old things rather than repurposed. She refreshed drab furniture with a coat of the hip paint color of the day. She revitalized old lamps with gold-leaf and a new shade. No pie tins would do for her. And she topped all tables, no matter the size or shape, with a slab of marble. The only things she repurposed were vacant bedrooms to store all her bargains.

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Published by A Cup of Tea on the Commode, a memoir

The parent/child role reversal might not have been unique to me, but how I dealt with it was. "A Cup of Tea on the Commode" chronicles my multi-tasking adventures, filling my mother’s last years with love, laughter, and joy. Though not always successful, I came pretty damn close.

3 thoughts on “The Recyclers

  1. I didn’t recall that photo from Celle! Now I understand the depth of family genealogy! It can be a curse and a blessing!! Repurpose and reuse: it’s the first step of recycling. Dad was always ahead of his time.

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