A meditation on differences

I know an older couple that I see on a fairly regular basis. He is retired, but She still works out of the home. Both are energetic, active, intelligent and generous. On most political points, we agree, even though we come from vastly different backgrounds. I care for Them a great deal.

All of this is just to set the stage. Now for the real story.

I invited Them to eat with us a few days ago, which They have done many times. The menu featured corn on the cob, beet salad, strawberry spinach salad and spare ribs. A few hours before dinner, She called to see if They could bring anything. Because the spare ribs were behind schedule, I suggested appetizers. She brought deviled eggs and a veggie tray.

The veggie tray is what triggered this meditation. It was purchased from a grocery store, and filled with grape tomatoes, baby carrots, celery, broccoli and ranch dressing. I can say with complete confidence that very little thought went into the tray. She probably thought: appetizers–something cool, since it’s summer–something quick, since dinner is in just a few hours–how about fresh vegetables?–the Bean loves ranch dressing. Et viola! A veggie tray.

Theoretically, I have no problem with veggie trays. But this one bothered me. Here it is, early August in Nebraska. Farmers around here have bushels of tomatoes and carrots and broccoli for sale. A few have celery, too. The corn, beets and spare ribs we fixed were all from local producers. (The spinach and strawberries were, alas, from California, but they were tremendously marked down–I am on a budget.) I have no doubt that the vegetables on that tray were also from California, perhaps even Mexico.

So what’s the big deal? Why do I have such an issue with this? Because I go to a lot of trouble to buy locally produced foods, foster a local food system and support Nebraska farmers. Because my ability to do this is swiftly disappearing, as we face life with even less income than before. And because the couple in question knows all of this.

Of course, I can’t place all the blame on Them. Time was limited, and perhaps purchasing a tray (instead of creating one) seemed necessary. Where can one buy a prepared tray of local vegetables? Uh…nowhere. At least not in Omaha. Perhaps if a local veggie tray had been available, She would have bought that. I do not know.

But there is another difference between this couple and me (and my husband), and THAT is recycling.

I grew up in a recycling household. This was back before the days of curbside recycling pick-up and plastic recycling codes. We saved newspapers and aluminum cans in our garage until they filled the van, then drove them to a center where a man paid us a few cents per pound. Hardly worth the money, but it was a good thing to do. Less in the garbage, and less in the landfills.

Now that I am an adult, I recycle just about everything. Here in Omaha, we do have curbside pick-up for cans, paper, cardboard and plastics coded 1, 2 and 5. We drive to a drop-off location to recycle glass. We take our old clothes and toys, etc. to Goodwill (just a few blocks away). We compost. Even the Bean, at age 3, knows that most “trash” goes in the recycling bin, and she puts it there.

Not so with this couple. They recycle…nothing. Not plastic bottles, not soda cans, not tin cans, not newspaper…nothing. Everything goes in the trash. As She puts it, “If they want something recycled, they can go through my garbage and get it.”

I just can’t understand it. I try to be objective, see through their eyes. Avoid being judgmental. But it is so hard!

They are smart people. They have to understand about pollution and limited landfill space and nonrenewable resources…don’t they? Is it possible that two American suburbanites don’t know this stuff in this day and age? No, I don’t think that’s it.

And it isn’t that They don’t have the time. If I can fit it in around my home business, two kids, housework, job-seeking, volunteering… If I can fit in, They can. He is retired, after all.

So what is it? What is the difference between Them and me? Could it be something as simple as our priorities?

I don’t have a spotless house. Housework is, by and large, pretty low on my priority list. I won’t leave dirty dishes lying around like I did in college, but I’m not too bothered by clutter. Piles of toys. Laundry, folded or unfolded. Unswept floors, as long as nothing sticks to my feet. Even spiderwebs don’t bother me–after all, they do cut down on houseflies.

Likewise, yard work is not high on my to-do list. I’ve got a vegetable plot in the community garden, and I have grown vegetables in other yards, at other houses. I will plant flowers on occasion, but I’m not terribly disciplined about weeding. Or mowing. Or pruning.

This couple, however, has a very well-kept house and yard. No piles or unfolded laundry inside. On the outside, a deck they sand and stain almost yearly. An enormous rock garden. Lots of shrubbery.

Taking care of their home is, apparently, very important to Them. Which is yet another thing I cannot imagine. I would rather try a new recipe or take my daughters to the zoo. Honestly, I’d rather go do almost anything–cooking and reading and playing are what I actually DO.

I suppose it all comes down to what’s important to each of us. We can’t all be the same, after all. Our differences are what allow us to complement one another.

I would still be a whole lot happier if They would start recycling.

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One Response to “A meditation on differences”

  1. anotheryarn Says:

    There is a “just one thing” add that runs here and the bit on recycling cans and bottles always gets me – I thought we figured that was a good and easy thing like 20 years ago.

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