What’s trash to you is treasure to Bob

What's trash to you is treasure to Bob by Bob Karolevitz I was recycling long before the term became fashionable.

My sainted mother was afraid I would follow in the footsteps of my grandfather who was a salvager without peer. He ran a second hand store and drove around town with his horse, Rosie, pulling a converted hearse.

The morticians must have given it away when they went to motorized vehicles. I wonder what ever happened to it?

When we were kids, my buddy � Ursal Snapp � and I pulled a coaster wagon up and down the alleys of our town, picking up; zinc jar lids and old copper wire. We didn't know we were recycling then; all we were interested in were the few pennies we got from the junk dealer for our wagon load.

Years later I was in South Korea before it was rebuilt and saw little old ladies and ancient-looking men save everything they could get their hands on. A-frames on their backs were filled with sticks they had scrounged to be used as firewood. There was still a war going on, but they were doing what they could to maintain some semblance of a society victimized by military destruction.

Then came the so-called "thieves' markets." I can remember the hundreds of small stalls on the banks of Seoul's many drainage canals. They were built of everything imaginable: scrap lumber, iron sheeting, flattened American beer cans, tattered canvas and salvaged stone.

Shelves were loaded with rusted hardware, old fruit jars, postage stamps, fish hooks, mismatched dishes, corset stays, veterinary instruments, brass items made out of artillery shell cases and junk, ad infinitum.

Maybe it was what I saw in Korea that revived my latent recycling talent when I returned to civilian life in America. I started to save things. Phyllis called me a "pack rat," and my ball of string kept getting bigger and bigger.

When we moved back to South Dakota, I bundled old newspapers for the Boy Scouts. I smashed aluminum cans which I sold to provide college scholarships. I piled up old bricks, straightened nails (which I've never used) and collected bottles and jars which should have been discarded a long time ago. I even saved my out-of-fashion neckties because I though somebody could use them if they were making a crazy quilt.

Our son-in-law calls me "the Depression Kid" because I remember the "Dirty Thirties" and the hard economic times of that era. No wonder I didn't want to threw anything away.

So, to Phyllis's chagrin, I've got cans full of old nuts and bolts, rusty hinges, obsolete electric fixtures, used lumber, wooden spools and lots of other things. I'm recycling them all. Maybe they'd sell on eBay (if I had a computer) and I could donate the proceeds to charity.

I keep thinking of those poor Koreans a half century ago and of my grandfather before them. It could be that I've got something in my genes that makes me want to salvage stuff. Or maybe I'm just a natural recycler?

All I know for sure is that my wife has finally reined me in.

"You can save those old newspapers for the Boy Scouts," she says condescendingly, "and I don't mind all those aluminum cans which you say you're going to take to the junk man when the price goes up � but all that other stuff has got to go. And soon!"

So I'm still a recycler, of course, albeit limited. I can still dream of those long-ago days when Ursal and I toured the alleys or when those Koreans struggled to keep the wolf from the door.

Come to think of it, there were probably wolf pelts for sale at the "thieves' market," too. Those people know how to make do in a time of scarcity.

They also made a recycling disciple out of me!

© 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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