21 October 2011

Green in the USA versus Green in Poland and Europe

I recently read the article In Regards to Being Green, which, while being a beautiful read, doesn't quite have the same perspective as my family has about the "Older Generation" and the "Green Movement".

My husband is an American who's grandparents were all born and raised in America shortly before WWII.  His grandfather on his mother's side, I never met but heard he was a wonderful man and I don't doubt it.  His grandmother who just passed away a couple of years ago I looked to as a 3rd Babcia and was very close to.  But they were different when it came to convenience/disposable/"green" than my own family.

My family all was born and raised in Poland.  My grandparents were all born shortly before WWII.

While all involved have memories of the WWII era, the memories were very different. 

And the upbringing was very different.  Because the hardships were just as different.

While Americans went home after WWII and started their lives without much issue, finding good blue collar jobs and working, raising families, buying new houses and cars, my family had a different experience.

The aftermath of WWII was there for my grandparents and others their age in Poland and the rest of wartorn Europe to deal with firsthand.  The mess didn't go away with the Yalta Conference.  It continued with the USSR controlling food production and distribution, the rebuilding of housing for a displaced war torn population, and so many other issues that America did not have to deal with.

Americans simply went home.  I am not claiming that they had no right to, I am merely stating that they went home.  The mess did not follow them.  In some ways, it even helped them.

The German and Japanese auto industry was devastated and the American auto industry thrived in that vacuum.  So did the American steel industry and countless other industries.

My grandparents stood in long lines to buy food and had to carefully calculate every single bite the family enjoyed.  Food was a necessity, the fuel to face yet another day of rebuilding and recovering.  Nutrition was important, it was the reason for eating.  Cost was important and extremely limiting as was the supply of the food.  Convenience was not an option.

My husband's grandparents cooked what they wanted to and if there were leftovers, they would be enjoyed but not stressed over.  Hands were not wrung while trying to think where the the next meal would come from.  There were no long lines only to find out the store had only a rotten bag of potatoes on their empty shelves to sell.

My grandmothers both carefully grew their own vegetables in small patches of war-devastated dirt just outside their village and city, some of which could have potentially held unexploded bombs dropped by both the Allies and the Axis.  This was not for a "Green Movement", this was to be able to eat.  Food was canned because how else do you make your summer cucumbers, strawberries, cabbage or currents last through the winters?  Weeds were pulled by hand.

My grandparents built relationships with local farmers and bought their meat and other items from them because the Russian Communist government attempted to control the farmers so tightly that the food supply was limited.  To eat meat was to buy a small amount and make as many meals from it as possible.  Vegetables and carbohydrates dominated the meal.

My husband's grandparents went to the local grocery store.  Certainly, for a time they could walk because the local corner store was still around for a while, but then the fashion of going to a large national chain to buy everything at once was embraced by that generation and the local corner stores began to close.  They drove their affordable bought-new large American made vehicles to the stores and bought whatever they wanted to eat, including foods like frozen dinners, meats that would be the center of the meal, instant mashed potatoes, potato chips, fresh baked breads and milk bought in plastic jugs that would be thrown away after being emptied.  The local bakers and specialty stores also began to fade into the past during this time.

My grandparents did not receive free plastic bags when they would purchase bread at the local baker to take home and throw away or with which they could line the bathroom trashcan.  The local baker continues to thrive as a business to this day.  Tote bags are a way of life.

My grandparents watched their towns, Warsaw, and later Wroclaw, be destroyed during WWII.  They had to live for a time with their in-laws but not in order to save money.  But, rather, because Warsaw was approximately 84% destroyed and Wroclaw had been declared a Festung by the Germans and had half of it's buildings destroyed, the damage displacing thousands, if not more. 

In Poland, the dead had to be buried, the buildings rebuilt, housing had to be made for necessity's sake.  You didn't throw litter in the street because everyone knew it didn't go away.  Because everyone had to clean it up, along with countless dead bodies and the rubble of collapsed buildings and destroyed hopes and dreams.

My husband's grandparents had homes built in the suburbs during the period of "white exodus" from the cities because it was the fashion to do so.  If they wanted pink carpet, they got pink carpet.  If they wanted a brick porch, they got one or later built it themselves.  They all had their own backyards with grass for the children to play in.  If a garden was not grown to raise the family's food, it was not a big deal.  In fact, the gardening was often considered a "waste of time", socially.  The only limitation was how much money one made, how hard one chose to work, and how they chose to handle their finances.

My grandparents on my father's side were lucky to have a balcony window to grow their herbs in and to dry their clothes on lines. 

My grandparents on my mother's side hung their clothing in the breeze of the Polish countryside.  Herbs were grown in the kitchen window.

Herbs were not bought predried and packaged in the grocery store on a whim to "try something different" like my husband's grandparents side.

My grandmothers would go for a walk in a park or would bake a small cake if the times allowed and they wanted to have a nice time.  Talking with friends was their "mommy time".  Bingo and going to buy another new hat just didn't happen.

If my husband's parents made a mistake on a piece of paper, it was not the end of the world if that paper was thrown away.  If my parents made a mistake on a piece of paper, it would be carefully corrected in their tiny space saving print because paper for a while was hard to come by.

Christmas on my family's side involved one gift per child.  Only one.  And it was treasured.

Glass jars were washed by my grandparents to use for pickling something else.  Because there was no store to buy new jars.  Aluminum jars were washed and used to hold pencils and other items because the idea of buying a special pencil holder was just plain impossible.  If it could be fixed, it was.  If not, whatever parts could be scavenged and stored for "just in case", were.  Balls of twine were used and reused over and over.

Both of my grandmothers worked.  They had to.  There was no option, the family had to eat.  The children were watched by the older generation, if they were lucky enough to have survived the War, or were placed in daycare.  Meals were made from scratch everyday.  There was no option.

Trans fats?  What trans fats in my family's food?  What artificial growth hormones for cows? What mega farms raising thousands of chickens in crowded unsanitary inhumane conditions?  My mother remembers her mother raising and killing their own chickens for meals, the ducks they were lucky to have to raise.

Cleaning by my grandmothers involved elbow grease, scrubbing with old rags, white vinegar, hot water, soap that was carefully measured and fresh air.  If a room did not smell fresh, there was no air freshener to spray into the air full of plastics and neurodisruptors and "perfume".  The window was opened, the furniture dusted with damp rags, and the fabric washed.  There was no other option to make the room smell nice.  It smelled nice if it was clean and that was that.

My grandparents did not buy 20 different products to clean their house.  There were no carcinagenic fumes wafting around the house.

My husband's parents were diapered in disposable diapers.  My parents diapered my brother and myself in cloth diapers that were handwashed and line dried, because that was the option and that was what their parents had done.

If my grandparents and parents could not afford something, it was not for lack of work and trying.  It was simply not able to be bought.  They were not frugal for some "green" reason, they were frugal to survive.  There was no family to ask for help.  They were dead or in the same situation.

Post Tramatic Stress Disorder affected the entire population, men, women and children.  Faith had to keep them going.  Hope had to sustain them.  The Future had to be strived for. 

Children's innocence had been destroyed.  The next generation of children were told to retain their innocence because the older generation knew what it meant to have that taken away.  To be raped by Russian or German soldiers as children or young women.  To see things that nobody should have to see.  To know Death.

I could list continued differences in lifestyles.  But I think you get the point.

My grandparents were green.  But it was not that my husband's family wasn't.  They just didn't have the problems and worries to need to be green.  And there was no public knowledge about what harsh chemicals destroyed your health or the environment.  After all, the generation before my husband's grandparents were essentially green, so the devastation of the disposable convenient way of life was not immediately apparent as it was still new.  And shiny.

There are two different "Green Movements".  There is the "Green Movement" of those who are facing the after effects of the 1950's, which to some still is not that apparent.  And there are those of us who were just raised that way because that is just what you did.

I hope that one day the two will merge and that everyone will live green because it is just what you do.

What did your grandparents do that would be considered "Green" today?  Do you still do the same things?  Why or why not?

Na razie...

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mamasoto said...

So very true. My mom and dad are immigrants from Mexico and were brought up with many of the same things, for many reasons that were based on sacrifice, struggles, difficulties, and because in the end that was just the way it was done, and everyone did it that way. No questions. Of course, Mexico is not Poland, each has had their own struggles, but certainly something I can understand and agree with on how Green affected different cultures and times for different reasons.

Megryansmom said...

My mother had a compost pile before composting became chic. In our tiny city backyard she grew all kind of fresh vegetables. Until I was in HS she made almost all of my clothes and hers as well. She grew up in the same war torn Poland your grandparents did and reminded us always to reduce, reuse and recycle. We made do with much less than people have now and yet it really wasn't a horrible childhood in that respect. I honestly think we were better off in the 60s.

Anonymous said...

Half of what you wrote is how I grew up.It wasn't post-war world but it was post-communism word.We still didn't have much.
My mom made almost all our clothes.More than half I got from my older sister.All my toys when I was a kid used be my siblings before.Since I remember we would grow our own veggies.We lived in an apartment but for that purpose my parents have garden out of the town.From March or April once a week we would go there with our entire family and start working.Weeding,digging,planting,watering, all the stuff you need to do in the garden.I didn't like it because after school I'd prefere to be with my friends and not to work.There wasn't "no" for an asnwer.There was always work to do out there until the first snow.
We always reused glass jars.Always!Our basment was full of canned stuff and my dad's "stuff" that he kept "just in case".
After my grandfather died my parents started to buy potatoes,eggs and meat from a farmer who lived across the street.Before my grandfather kept rabbits,chickens and geese and we had some meat and eggs from him.
And yes,everything was made from scratch.
When I was younger I kinda didn't like it because I had always do something,cook/bake something,help my mom with something.
Now... I really appreciate what my parents tought me.
I've seen my aunt killing and butchering pigs and cows,and I cried many times,but I knew that this is food that we are going to eat for the entire year.
I've seen my father killing catfish every single Christmas.(yes,it was normal in Poland to buy living fish and having to kill in yourself).I cried too, because the day before it used to swimm in our bathtube, but I ate it because my mom makes the best greek catfish on the earth :) I couldn't resist even knowing what just happened to that fish!

We all grew up loving and respecting animals and our environment.Oh.. how I wish we could garden here where we live.We signed up for city garden spot but we are 30th on the list.I might take years to get that one spot.I'm starting to hate more and more those urban places.I wish I could live somewhere in the middle of now(freaking)here and live totally sustainable.That's what I dream about.

Courtney Mroch said...

Wow. What a super humbling perspective. Very glad you shared this.