My brother-in-law, Rodney, the wizard of wisecracks in our family, was sitting at the island in my kitchen, watching as I put away food from a Sunday School get-together.
I pulled out a Styrofoam take-out container and began to fill it with food for a friend who was ailing.
"Ronda," he said in that tone he uses when I'm about to get a lecture about my stupidity on this or that. "Surely, you don't re-use Styrofoam containers."
I stopped dipping green beans and looked at him incredulously. "Of course, I do." I smiled before I returned the volley. "I'm green. I practice recycling."
He rolled his eyes. "That's not recycling, dummy. That's re-using. There's a big difference."
I thought back to all the times I've seen Mama and my grandmothers wash and dry baggies then stack them away neatly for use again.
I fluttered my eyelashes and smiled coquettishly. "I'm Scotch-Irish and this is the way we recycle."
He shook his head in complete disbelief. "I can't believe you do that. That is the height of redneck." Coming from an expert on the matter, it must be true. "What would Jeff Foxworthy say? I'm sure he'd get some good material out of it."
That's when I had to laugh. I thought back to a few weeks before, when Jeff and his precious wife, Gregg, had been at my house for a simple Southern supper. Jeff and Rodney had stood in the kitchen, chatting, while Louise and I put food away. I pulled out a Cool Whip container and poured mashed potatoes in it. I see no reason to throw great storage containers like this away.
Jeff tilted his head to one side and scratched at his ear. "You know, my sister's got a whole matching set of them bowls." He gestured toward the Cool Whip container. "When we eat with her, she uses them for salad bowls."
Great. One professional comedian and one who thinks he's a comedian making fun of my frugal ways. But it is the way of my people. If my mama could use it again, she never threw it out. My grandmother saved loaf bread wrappers and used them for bags. If she was going on a long trip - usually an hour or so - she'd make her up some sausage and biscuits, wrap them in a paper napkin and put them in a loaf bread bag. When she came to visit us for an overnight stay, she brought her clothes in a paper grocery sack.
"You waste too much," Mama said disapprovingly one day as she watched me unload groceries and throw the bags in the trash.
That's really not the truth, especially according to Rodney. When I'm shopping, I often refuse a bag and just carry my purchase out in hand. I save bath water, and tote endless gallons outside to water flowers and trees. This I learned from my Scotch-Irish mama who, long before it was cool to be green, toted her dishwater outside in an old metal dishpan and poured it on her roses. Mama used recycled water all her life. She had grown up humble in the mountains where they toted water from the creek and used the cool water to store a "spring box," which kept their milk and butter chilled. She knew the value of water.
I save string, ribbon, bows and, when possible, wrapping paper. I eat leftovers for a week at a time and air conditioning is never turned on before June, for I depend heavily on ceiling fans. In the winter time, I bundle up good, and turn the heat down low. From my ancestors, I believe I've learned well.
Are we thrifty or ingenious? Probably a little of both. But if things keep going like they're going, more people are going to wish they had a Scotch-Irish upbringing.
After all, we were the original recyclers.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.