Long before recycling became popular—now mandatory in most counties in California—our single trash barrel for a family of four was seldom half-full for the weekly pickup. My mother repurposed every item. She bleached four sacks and made dish towels. She sewed skirts from colorful floral chicken feed sacks when times were tough. During agriculture season when work was plentiful, she bought material at the five and dime and fashioned it into girl’s clothes like those she’d seen in stores. She rolled the scraps into small bundles and saved them for piecing quilts.
After a long day of field work, cooking, and cleanup at home, Mama settled into her favorite rocking chair. Never idle, she inserted a sturdy, hand whittled wooden crochet hook through a loop in colorful fabric strips torn from old clothes to create oval throw rugs for our linoleum floors. When multiple washings had faded those rugs to an embarrassing paleness, she used them as kneeling pads while weeding our backyard vegetable garden.
One fall evening, Mama cut worn nylon stockings into half-inch wide strips. She crocheted those bands into a long chain in rhythm to Mother Maybelle’s guitar strumming and singing from the Carter Family radio music program.
“Ugly,” I said as she plied the hook in and out to form a bland rope-like chain.
“No sense letting these stockings go to waste,” she said. “It doesn’t look like much now, but it’ll make a fine rug when it’s finished.”
At the end of the radio broadcast, Mama stretched the nylon cable from her nose to her fingertips, counting the precise one-yard measurements. After several evenings when the chain reached the needed length, she formed a small center and handstitched the nylon rope until it reached the size of the small throw row she had intended. She tucked the raw edge under and secured it on an outside row and lowered the finished craft to the floor.
Mama was right. The tans were reminders of the smooth pebbles in the riverbed where we kids had played in the cold stream at Easter Sunday picnics after church. The lighter beiges were reminiscent of the beach at Santa Cruz on our few trips there. Hidden among the loops were the intricate stitches where Mama had mended small runs to avoid buying a new pair of stockings.
I’ve stopped sewing in favor of knitting. I donate my cast-off clothes to thrift stores, so I have no scraps to repurpose. Heeding the fall risk warnings for seniors, my living room and bedroom floors are absent of throw rugs. I recycle household basics, a single bag each week. My main reclamation project is fashioning memories into a montage of stories.