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A Flash From the Past… People Were ‘Green’ And Didn’t Know It!

November 18, 2011 · 89 comments

in Commentary, Life

I don’t usually pay much attention to emails that circulate around the internet, like how there is a 98 percent chance that if you travel out of the country, you will wake up in your hotel room bathtub with your kidneys removed and instructions to call 9-1-1.

However, the following email arrived in my inbox yesterday that really struck a chord with me (I have no idea who the original author is):

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

What struck me about this post isn’t so much about the ‘green’ movement, but more about how life was so much simpler when even I was a kid in the 70s.  I totally remember using a push lawnmower with rotating blades.  (We did switch over to gas eventually.  I do like that those old-fashioned lawn mowers are coming back ‘in-style’).

I also can’t tell you how many miles I walked in a week.  I walked to and from school, to the store, to friend’s houses, everywhere.  I don’t think being driven around to sports and such was even invented yet!  It was either on foot or by bike, period.  (We were all much thinner too!)

There are a million ways that life was different when I was a kid than they are now.  I have to admit though, I miss a lot of the ‘old’ ways. And, whoever originally wrote this email was right- we probably didn’t consume nearly as much oil/gas/electricity back then.  However, it wasn’t because we were being ‘green’, it was more because technology hadn’t advanced far enough yet.

I wonder where we will be in 100 years?  Will obesity be the norm?  Will the ONLY sports being played be organized? (We are close to that now.)   Will babies be potty trained in-utero?  It is hard for me to envision what life will be like that far in the future considering how much things have changed in just 35 years.

What are you thoughts?  Did you ever use a push lawnmower?  Do you remember having only one TV in the house?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy l November 18, 2011 at 5:48 am

My cousin has said that exact thing about her parents and my mom because they wouldnt use recycle bins and I was like, but they dont do all these other things like throw their jars away or drive or use the dryer or drink soda. They are and always were greener than you ms environmentalist.


Jon - Free Money Wisdom November 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I love this post! Our generation doesn’t know what it is to sacrifice. Our parents parents lived through the depression. Who are we to correct the older generation?


MoneyReasons November 18, 2011 at 6:47 am

Kind of sad in way huh.

Even though people were not big polluters (except for fireplaces and coal burners, not to mention leaded gasoline), the business were back then. Not because the business were evil (Mauahah), but because it just wasn’t know back then.

To me it’s funny how people of the present will look back in the past and find reasons to make the previous generation feel guilty.


Money Beagle November 18, 2011 at 8:04 am

Very true and what Money Reasons said is true as well. Look at all the sites where old factories sat or rivers where production took place, they all have to be cleaned up because companies would just pour whatever into the river or into the ground.

People definitely need to walk more. It kills me a little bit inside when I see cars lined up at the bus stop for high school students within the neighborhood. It would be a 5-10 minute walk at the max for the kids that live the furthest away, but they sit there in their parents car waiting for the bus (and not just on cold, snowy days either, this is every day of school). In my day, any kid that dared try that would have been teased mercilessly.


The Biz of Life November 18, 2011 at 8:16 am

I guess you could argue that cavemen were the greenest people ever on the planet until they discovered fire. The disposable society that has arisen in the past 30 or so years is destructive both to the environment and the human spirit. I still get my drinking water from the tap, not the bottle, and I’m glad I have well water instead of florinated city water.


MoneyCone November 18, 2011 at 10:14 am

“I wonder where we will be in 100 years? Will obesity be the norm?”

Isn’t it already a norm? We simply changed the definition of what’s considered obese.

Excellent post Kris!


Roshawn @ Watson Inc November 18, 2011 at 11:39 am

I agree with moneycone: being overweight and obese are VERY common in our society presently. In fact, people who are of normal size according to the charts are called skinny. It’s actually quite sad that we have to change the definition of what is overweight, just to account for the fact that too many of us are carrying around extra weight.

Anyway, you are so right. Things have changed a whole lot in just a short amount of time. It truly is a “different” world than 30 years ago. The irony is that as much as things have changed, things often stay the same without us knowing it!


Jacq November 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Yikes, I remember missing the school bus once – but I only did it once. The reason why was because my mom made me walk home because she was too busy to pick me up. It was 6 miles. Never did that again!

I don’t recall using many cans of anything either, mostly because my parents and grandparents canned everything in glass jars. I think the concept of “throwaway / recycled” margarine tubs and whatnot was a strange one for my grandmother to get because she saved all of them. Almost nothing was eaten that came out of a plastic bag – but my grandmother would buy cereal and use the liners for storing things.

Re. the potty training – I think it was quite common to get kids potty trained at what would be considered a very young age today. I think my grandmother trained her kids at just over a year old whereas mine were totally done around 2 1/2 (pure laziness on my part). They just didn’t have the time (or the tools for that matter) to be cleaning diapers for years. I’m not sure what’s the average nowadays, but I do see a lot of kids in diapers that I wouldn’t expect to be in them at that age.


Miss T @ Prairie EcoThrifter November 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I have watched some documentaries that have shown how in the last 50 years we have changed or world more than centuries before combined. It is sad how much impact we have had in such a short time- especially because it has been negative impact. It’s like an acceleration has occurred right before our eyes.


Krantcents November 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I never used a push mower because I had to cut 2 acres. We not only had one TV, but it was black & white. It cost less and used less power. As a young child I was outdoors until dark most days too. I never ate fast food or junk food, although I may ate too much food. Life was simpler too.


101 Centavos November 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I remember that push mower when I was a kid. Never did work very well, but that’s probably we didn’t sharpen the blades very well. I’ve been thinking hard about getting one for next season. It’ll be one less motor to maintain.


Invest It Wisely November 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Things have changed so much, and not all of it has been good. Much of our increasing consumption has been to make lives easier — The invention of household appliances makes it easier for a couple to be a two-income household, for one. I also think that the explosion of information technology as been mostly a positive one on net.

Within 50 years I would expect us to be using more energy but with less of an impact on the environment than today. WIthin 100 years… who knows. The world in 1911 was a very different place than today!


Squirrelers November 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Life was way simpler. That can be good and not as good, but there were definitely positives to it. For example, I recall from childhood that once my Dad left work, that was it. No working from home, no computer, certainly no cell phones – much less smart phones. If you weren’t at home answering a landline, they couldn’t reach you. There weren’t even answering machines back in the day. Now, people are connected even while traveling via plane. No escaping work in many cases!

I know the topic was green, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me, in terms of life being simpler for the prior generation.


Shelly Slader August 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Wow, it’s so true. We have a gas fireplace in Cincinnati OH and my daughter thinks that we need to upgrade to an electric one. She is even embarrassed to have her friends over!


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