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Junk pile is like Lego blocks for do-it-yourselfers

“What’s all this junk?” my visitor asked.

I shrugged. “What junk?”

“This … ” — he pointed at a lawn mower without wheels — “… that …” — a hunk of PVC pipe jagged at one end — “… those…” — a couple chairs each missing legs and seats — “… and, and …” — he waved his arms — “… all this clutter!”

I scratched my head. “There’s no clutter. Just my Lego building blocks.”

“Legos?”

“Yep. See those hunks of wood and screws over there? I couldn’t figure where they fit in the bookcase kit I built. So I saved them for the next time I have to patch a hole in the garage door, just like snapping on a Lego piece. Pretty smart, eh?”

“What happened to the bookcase?”

“Oh, it needed a little duct tape. If it collapses again, I’ll use the pieces to repair that old table in the corner.” I tossed aside a shovel without a handle. “Never throw anything away. You can always use anything in another building project.”

As I explained it to him, I grew up in a family that recycled before recycling was cool.

We wore clothes until they fell apart. The scraps and tatters that remained were snipped into patches to stitch together other fabrics that still had a hint of life, however feeble, left in them.

“Then you threw them away?” my visitor asked.

Of course not! Mom stuffed the shreds into rag bags hanging in the barn and garage, where Dad used them to sop up oil, grease and whatever the cows left behind. I never saw any article of clothing thrown away. They simply disintegrated in squeals of paint spills and surrender.

It wasn’t just garments. Our farm equipment looked like it had been built by John Deere, Farmall and Dr. Frankenstein. If something broke down beyond repair, you cobbled the surviving pieces into something else that needed refurbishing.

We hauled home discarded treasures and adapted them. Dad hooked his tractor to disc harrows and hay rakes originally built to be hitched behind horses. A few modifications here and there, and away Dad chugged across the field towing machinery that still sprouted hard iron seats for a driver to sit while holding horse reins.

“Why didn’t he take the torch, cut off the horse driver’s seat and toss it?” my visitor asked.

He wasn’t catching on. We might need the seats someday, like if Mom changed her mind about using cast iron farm machinery seats to fudge together dining room chairs.

Dad was a genius of jury-rigging, a maestro of modifications, a technician of transmogrification. Mom flaunted the same skills in the kitchen, where she worked every edible scrap into a dish for dinner. Mom’s favorite recipe: Plop two cans of any soups sitting on the shelf; stir in whatever was left in the refrigerator; mix well; and serve.

We didn’t suffer through stale leftovers; we gobbled down brand new stew. It was never the same but always delicious.

“Waste not, want not — even if you want to want,” my visitor muttered. He picked up a ball of paper and tossed it to me. “I suppose you saved this to plug the holes in your boots.”

I uncrumpled the paper. It was the set of directions for the bookcase kit I’d built. I flung it back to him. “Oh, you can toss this. It’s junk.”

Collect with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at burtonwcole.com.

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