Nooks and Crannies

When green was just a color: Every little bit helps


“We don’t want it to go to waste.” Our mother said it. She lived it. She taught it to her family. During our growing-up years when we were saving, stretching, repairing, reusing and repurposing, we had no idea that we were using environmentally-friendly practices; the “green” movement had not yet begun. It was simply the way we lived.

Our parents grew up during the Depression. Our grandparents lived through the Great War. They all experienced the rationing of World War II. Frugal living was in their blood, and they passed it on to our generation.

We saved. When cotton string was sewn into the tops of flour sacks or paper bags, we gently pulled it out and later wound it around the ball of saved string that waited in the pencil drawer. You never knew when you might need string! The same went for scraps of fabric and slips of paper. We trimmed the blank area from the backs of cards and envelopes. The good thing about all this saving was that we always had craft materials available for important projects.

Slivers of soap stuck to the new bar if “glued” on with plenty of suds and left to dry. Old catalogs were carried to the outhouse where they were used for — um, reading material, of course!

Kleenex and paper towels beckoned from grocery shelves, but why buy something, use it once and just throw it away? Handkerchiefs and rags served the same purposes quite nicely.

Salvaged sections of baling wire saved the day many times when strategically stashed under pickup and tractor seats or on a nail in the Quonset. Delmer and Don spent an occasional afternoon with a hammer and cement block. They pounded bent nails to straighten them and tossed them into an old paint can, ready for use.

In the kitchen we used the waxed paper liners in cereal boxes for packing sandwiches. When split down the side they served as cooling sheets for bread and cookies. Tin foil was washed and used over and over again. Reusing the old saved on purchasing new. Egg shells were dried in an old oatmeal canister, to be crushed later and fed to the chickens or the tomato plants in the garden. The chickens loved fruit and vegetable peels. The dog and barn cats feasted on meat scraps. Bacon grease flavored fried eggs and potatoes wonderfully. “Potato water,” the liquid drained from the cooked vegetable, added flavor and nutrients to gravy and homemade bread.

No gift bags back then, but we carefully folded and packed away the larger pieces of used wrapping paper, especially at Christmas, and we kept a handy stash of ribbons and bows to use again and again.

Small jars which had held olives or maraschino cherries made great jelly jars. Mom filled them with chokecherry or apple and sealed them with melted paraffin. When we opened the jar, we removed the solid circle of wax on top and stored it with the others in a blue porcelain cup for use again next year.

I don’t remember being told I had to clean up my plate at mealtimes, but I did know that if there were vegetables and meat remaining on it, I had better not count on dessert! Like everything else, food was not to be wasted.

Our mother mended and patched clothes until they were too thin to patch. Then my sisters and I helped her cut off the buttons and rip out zippers and elastic to be used again to repair another garment. What was left was salvaged for rugs or tossed into the rag drawer. I remember Mom sitting in her chair after supper and darning socks. She pushed a lightbulb into the heal or toe of the sock, wherever the hole was. Then she used her darning needle to weave thread into a curved patch over the hole. The mend was so smooth that the big toe did not even notice it.

We all worked together on our South Dakota farm. We fixed and saved and reused everything possible. Though our motto at the time was closer to “A penny saved” than “Go green,” we still conserved trees and other resources and kept trash to a minimum. The things we did were small things, but cumulatively they made a difference, because “Every little bit helps!” Our mom said that, too.

DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow.  She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at


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