My dad has a very funny story he tells about his adventures on the farm. I love hearing him tell of such a different life that so many of us know nothing about.
When my grandparents moved to Kaneohe in the late 1930’s, the majority of the landscape was farms. They settled down near Keole Road to start up their farm. They tended to cows, taro, and bananas. Being that the area was rural, no sewer lines or cesspools were in the area so if you wanted a toilet, you had to build an outhouse.
My grandfather was a resourceful man who would take my dad and his siblings down to the junk pile to search for little treasures that might be useful to make something. He’d take an old can and fill it with old nails and screws and other stuff. Many of the old structures he had built were made from stuff that was thrown out. Back in those days, it wasn’t too hip to recycle and using old junk was just a symbol of a poor farmer. I doubt he really cared about that image very much because he continued to use junk and scraps for years to make sheds and other farm structures.
From the junks of others, a useful outhouse was built outside their home. Nothing was bought to make it. I think of it as a pretty amazing feat how he could transform what looked like trash into a fully functioning outhouse.
Back in those days, there wasn’t bountiful amounts of affordable of toilet paper either and people had to make do with what they had. Toilet paper for my dad’s family was using the old tissues that wrapped oranges. They saved all of the tissues from the oranges and recycled the old crates to store it. Just to have tissue to wipe was a luxury for my dad.
One night, when my dad was about 8 years old, he had to go to the outhouse very badly. In those days, there was no lights and everything was pitch black. Being the resourceful kid he was, he decided to take the matches with him to provide some light while using the toilet. He made his way in the dark to the outhouse with no problem but inside, he thought he’d make some light and lit a match. He took the match and lit a piece of tissue for light. Before he knew what was happening, the tissue burst into flames and he dropped it into the crate of tissues. In no time at all, the tissues were set afire and then the entire outhouse was set on fire, sending him running into the bushes naked.
He told me that it is a story that he would never live down because the blaze could be seen from a distance and it was well known to many that Kenneth burned down the family toilet. We still laugh heartily at that story every time he tells it. It also reminds me how his generation really was the first “green” people.
As an occupational therapist working with rehabilitating people, I see firsthand how much the older generations were very much “green.” When someone has a hip replacement or some major illnesses, the basic task of toileting becomes difficult. I have to teach people how to get back to being independent with something so many take for granted. One thing I’ve noticed is that my seniors have a very unique way of using toilet paper.
Instead of grabbing a wad of toilet paper, my patients will carefully count out their preferred about of toilet tissue. If you hand them a wad of toilet paper, they will unfold it and separate the squares. Then they fold it in a very certain pattern before wiping. They will use those 4 or 5 squares to get multiple wipes from it and I get so impressed with this toilet paper origami. These behaviors are lifelong learned patterns of using resources wisely because they knew there would be times when there may not be any.
I do chuckle about this but there is a grain of truth in the old ways and learning from the lessons they experienced. When we are in abundance, we do go for quantity, whether it be food or toilet paper. It’s human behavior to indulge. There is a price to pay with indulgence as it leads to unintended consequences like a clogged toilet or weight gain. No longer do I see huge advertisements for supersizing food or buying huge quantities of food. I admit that I used to stock up at Costco for foodstuff only to realize that we weren’t eating all of what we bought. That discount we thought we were getting became a wash when we landed up wasting the food.
It’s easy to want to fall back on that behavior of more is better. My friend started gardening and I mentioned to her that she needed to apply slug bait to prevent rat lungworm disease. She rushed out to buy the pesticide and said she shook that stuff all over her garden instead of following the label. There’s not much to lose by using more to home gardeners and following the label isn’t a big deal when the bottle costs less than $20. If a gardener were to do the cost analysis of growing those cucumbers and lettuce, heads, they’d be shock to know how much it would cost to grow it.
To farmers it’s a complete different story. Some people believe that farmers will toss fertilizer out like crazy but when it means cutting into your bottomline, that is far from the truth. When you’re trying to maximize the benefit of a product to help support your livelihood, you’re not going to toss out bags of stuff that costs you money! It’s not going to provide any additional benefits and will have an unintended consequence along the way.
We all can learn from the lessons of the past to guide us for the future. Clamoring for the old is a different story when you’ve actually lived it to know what it’s like. My dad’s lessons keep me grounded and appreciating what I have now.