anne mikolay 2012 120A young person I know is fond of saying my generation ruined the world for our children. Though I disagree, I've never been able to offer a proper response – until a fellow member of the allegedly offending generation sent me the following essay. I was unable to ascertain the author of this little gem but if you remember doing your homework with fountain pens, covering your schoolbooks with paper bags, and watching the cashier do arithmetic on paper in order to make change, you may enjoy “TheGreen Thing”, a vindicating walk down memory lane.

The Green Thing

“Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much 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 young clerk responded, “That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save the environment for future generations.”

She was right; our generation didn't have the green thing in our 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, 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. Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things, most memorably, besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribbling. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown bag. But we didn't do the green thing back then. We walked up the 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 throwaway 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 was 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 was 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 in the family's $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the green thing. 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 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger 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?” 

Those of you already familiar with this essay will note the omission of the last paragraph, an angry, insulting rant against the younger generation. I feel no need to offend those who come after me; someday, they will be the “offending generation” and by default shoulder blame for the environment's decline. Call it progress or the natural order of things...that's just the way it goes.