The memory is crystal clear, if not verbatim.
My single mom and I were at the beach. I was about 6 years old. Before we went home, my mother said something that would cement a pattern for the rest of my life.
“We can’t leave yet,” Mom said, as she sat back down at the picnic table where we’d had our lunch.
“Why not?” I whined, being sunburned and tired.
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“You didn’t clean up your mess,” she said firmly.
Sure enough, there was the rest of my lunch on the table, a popsicle stick on the bench and a soda bottle on the sand.
“Oh, Moooooooom!” I groused, sweeping my arm around and pointing like the over-dramatic, miniature Sarah Bernhardt I was. “Look at all the trash everybody else is leaving behind! Why do I have to pick up mine?”
With one eyebrow raised up nearly to her hairline, she gave me “The Look,” and said firmly, “So now, we’ll clean up some of that, too. We won’t leave until we do.”
She handed me the grocery bag in which we’d packed our lunch, made me collect my own leavings, and then we went from area to area, picking up other people’s garbage. We didn’t get it all, but we got a lot.
I was still sulky.
“Why did we have to do that, Mom?” I complained. “Why couldn’t somebody else do it?”
“They should have,” she explained calmly, “but just because they didn’t, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. This is our beach, and we love it. Do you want it to be all covered with trash when we come back?” she asked. “Because if they don’t clean it up, and we don’t clean it up, and then the people who come later don’t clean it up, pretty soon we won’t be able to see the sand any more … and we won’t want to come back here.”
That was my Earth Day.
Since then, we’ve all learned a lot about being kinder to our planet.
We’ve learned about solar power and wind power.
We’ve learned that a carbon footprint isn’t something Sasquatch leaves behind after tromping through a burned-out forest, but instead is something far more worrisome.
We’ve learned about global warming and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We’ve bombarded the Earth with wars, blankets of smog, oil spills and sunken ships, bombs and nuclear-plant disasters, chemical spills on a massive scale and dangers of using toxic chemicals at home.
And I’ve learned how truly forward thinking my mom was, what an incredible commitment she had to Earth awareness and stewardship.
As an individual, I may not be able to clean up the ocean’s entire garbage patch, but the Tanners already are taking several steps to keep from adding to the mess:
▪ Years ago, we bought extra-heavy-duty, reusable shopping bags at Cookie Crock. They’re made out of recycled water bottles, even the straps, and probably will outlive us. We wash/disinfect the bags periodically and are careful about meats, fresh produce and such.
▪ We line our kitchen recycling cans with more reusable shopping bags, dumping the contents only into the blue wastewheeler. Those bags, too, have lasted a long time.
▪ For decades, we’ve used the same reusable stainless steel Nissan Thermos drinking mugs. I put water, tea or an occasional soda in mine. Husband Richard and Son Brian use theirs for coffee, even taking them into coffee bars to be filled.
▪ Disposable straws? No, sir. We bought some sturdy, bendable, reusable ones. They’re a bit tricky to keep clean, but hot water, a denture-cleaning tablet and an ultra-skinny brush help a lot.
▪ We carry our own sturdy, reusable food containers into the restaurant for packing up our “doggie bag” leftovers. Our “lives-in-the-car” picnic kit (great for take-out!) includes real metal flatware, lightweight Corelle plates, fabric napkins and some of those reusable straws.
▪ We use many techniques to conserve fresh water, from reusing shower/sink warm-up water to taking sponge baths and short, military-style showers.
It’s just a start, but we try to add at least one new Earth-friendly habit every month or so.
Mom would be pleased by what we’re doing, but horrified about what mankind has created. I agree with her. So, Mom, I’ll clean up my part of the beach. And thank you.
Editor’s note: The 46th annual Earth Day is Friday, April 22.