Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back-Up Wreath

Yesterday at the Transfer Station J and I searched the shelves as usual for discarded treasures. Our local TS is a resourceful place. Adjacent to the the trash compactor are several shelves where residents can bring unwanted but still useful items for trade. The shelves are always full in the summer, especially after tag sales. The pickings in winter are much slimmer until right before Christmas. Before our arrival yesterday, someone had left three giant cardboard boxes full of Christmas decorations. I know there are people who, though they have no reservations about pawing through discount tables at Filene's, will shudder at the thought of looking through a box left at the TS. My sympathy goes out to them. Over the years I've found numerous discarded but still useful items at the TS including a glider chair, intact and without a stain or a loose screw; a Williams Sonoma popover pan; a Cuisinart; a camera never out of its box; assorted cutlery and enough pretty plates to feed 30 people at my daughter's pre-wedding dinner; vases of all sorts and sizes; a futon still in its shrink wrap, and… Christmas decorations.

My parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression which had a profound effect on the way they lived their lives once it was over. I was brought up with such slogans as make do or do without, waste not, want not, and use it up or wear it out. Nothing in our house was ever wasted or thrown away until every last vestige of usefulness was wrung from it and even then, many of the holdovers so necessary to survival in the 30s remained behind even after my parents passed away – the ball of string in the corner cupboard, the waxed paper bags that held kitchen garbage, the desk drawer full of rubber bands, the straightened and pressed wrapping paper, the rescued bows, the over-stuffed rag bag. I figure I could have gone two ways when I reached adulthood  – I chose the frugal way and it frames the way I now live my own life which, I suppose, explains my delight in our local TS.

J and I spent a happy half hour holding up one thing after another for approval. I make fudge at Christmas. This year each recipient will receive theirs in a charming china dish decorated with tasteful renderings of angels or penguins or carol singers on the outside. My grandchildren will love the Santa that lights up inside with a tiny candle; my daughter-in-law will enjoy the basket her gift will come packed in. I may not have saved more than $10 all told but it's $10 still in my pocket.

Often on the ride home, J and I discuss the pleasure we get in thinking about the money we've saved and how it gets harder and harder to part with our hard earned cash for something we know will, sooner or later, show up at the TS. Perhaps that is why, when I saw a perfectly good grapevine wreath in the shape of a heart, I snatched it up despite the fact that I already have a perfectly good grapevine wreath in the shape of a heart at home.

"This," I told J, waving it over my head, "will be my back-up wreath in case the one I have falls apart." And then we both gasped. Is this what it's come to, then? Are we on our way to hoarder-hood? I thought of the coat I'd snatched up last week even though I already have a perfectly serviceable coat. I thought of the Christmas decorations in my hands and the five boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic at home, leftovers from my childhood and my children's childhoods. I sighed. But, I did not put the wreath back. I brought it home and on the way we laughed at the thought of two old bats combing the TS for back-up treasures to the multitude of treasures we already have.

This morning J called. She was making cookies. She'd hauled out her old Sun-Beam MixMaster and rifled about in the drawer where she had not one, but two sets of beaters. "I remember when my mother didn't hook the beaters in tight and when she turned on the machine, they twisted all together," she explained. "I saw those extra beaters one day at the TS and I thought, 'I might need these someday!' They're my back-up beaters, you see, just in case I make the same mistake my mother did."

I suddenly felt much better about the wreath. Next week I'll return the coat because I don't really need it and someone else will. But I know that someday my little heart-shaped wreath will fall apart - it's already second-hand. And then, you see, I'll have back-up.