“Grandma, don’t! That’s stealing!” I whispered from across the table.
Every time we went out to eat with my grandparents, my grandma would sneak all the jelly and sugar packets from the table and put them in her purse. I was mortified, convinced I had the weirdest grandmother on the planet.
My Grandma Gladys, my mother’s mother, was always doing things I found strange, and often embarrassing. She washed and reused plastic baggies and utensils, saved jars and jars full of extra buttons, kept a can of used bacon grease under the kitchen sink, and ate parts of the animal I didn’t even know existed. (Gizzards, anyone?)
She also canned her own jam, cooked meals from scratch, walked to the store instead of driving, crocheted beautiful afghans without using a pattern, and knitted hats, mittens, and slippers for my siblings and me—skills I now admire but once saw as a waste of time.
Many of the “strange” things my grandmother did, I now know had a lot to do with her life circumstances. Born in 1902, she was a married with three children when the U.S. was in the grips of the Great Depression. Like many who lived through that era, she learned to save all the items she had and find ways to reuse them, rather than throw things away.
I, on the other hand, was a privileged child of the ‘80s who had everything I needed and more. I learned about the Great Depression in school, but it seemed more like a story than real life. Poverty, hunger, and desperation were simply words to me. I didn’t understand why my grandma couldn’t just get with the times and live like “normal” people.
Now the tables are somewhat turned. As the economy struggles to recover from the Great Recession, many Americans (me included) are looking for ways to cut back and live on less. I’m learning that accumulating lots of stuff doesn’t make me happy, nor does working in a boring cubicle job whose main purpose is to generate money so I can buy more stuff.
And I’m not alone. There’s a growing trend toward living simply and sustainably, not only as a way to save money, but for better health, greater happiness, and a cleaner environment. When I think about her now, I see my grandma wasn’t weird at all, she was saving the earth!
Today, I’m the one with the reusable bags, cooking meals from scratch, and fixing things that break rather than throwing them away. My other sustainability ventures include going vegan, growing my own vegetables, and buying more things secondhand. I think Grandma would be proud.
Now that I’m older, I see how much I take after my grandmother. My ear for music, my positive attitude, my love of word games and puzzles, and my passion for animals are all traits I inherited from her.
My Grandma Gladys died when I was 19. I loved her so much, but I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate her because of, not in spite of, her peculiarities. If she were alive today, I bet we’d have some amazing talks. And I’d be able to tell her what a cool grandma she turned out to be.
Adapted from a guest post I originally wrote in November 2011 for beirreplaceable.com.