It’s picnic season and you know what that means: You better be stocked up on the throwaway goodies that you will just end up washing all summer long.

Or maybe your family isn’t like mine. Maybe you actually dispose of things marked disposable. Somebody must. Otherwise, America wouldn’t be labeled a use-it-and-chuck-it nation.

Not me. I still have old two-by-fours in a back corner of my garage. They were there when I moved into the house 22 years ago. Nails were sticking out of one of the posts, a notch was cut into another and they all had that weathered look that comes from, well, weather.

I was thrilled to discover the prize inside my Cracker Jacks box. I’ve never found a use for them. But if one ever shows up, I have the tire chains for winter traction. You just don’t throw away something that can be reused.

I start picnic season by visiting the shopping club to buy a big box of plastic knives, forks and spoons, a jumbo bag of plastic Dixie cups and whoppin’ packages of foam plates and bowls.

I did this to avoid dishes. I’d stock up on throwaway pots and pans if they didn’t keep melting all over the stove.

But after every outing, my dish rack is full of washed Dixie cups and plasticware. It’s against my thrifty upbringing to throw away throwaways.

At a family wedding a few years back, one of my aunts couldn’t believe people were tossing out the plastic knives, spoons and forks.

She hurried to the banquet hall kitchen for a tub of soapy water, parked herself beside the trash cans and ordered people to deposit their plastic spoons, forks and knives in her tub. She fished others out of the trash.

She sat back there half the night with her soapy water, meticulously reconditioning hundreds, maybe even thousands, of preowned disposables for future use.

That is my heritage.

In high school, I reused my brown paper lunch bags until they fell apart. If the peanut butter didn’t mess them up too badly, chances are I saved the plastic sandwich bags as well.

After one picnic, Mom made me do dishes. Mom was cruel like that. So being as obstinate as possible in hopes she would come to her senses, I pestered her about what I should do with the dirty paper plates.

“Oh for Pete’s sake, wash them, for all I care,” Mom snapped.

Shreds of paper peeled off and floated in the water as I tried to use a scrubber as delicately as possible to remove baked bean stains from the paper plates. Soggy plates began shredding.

“What are you doing?” Mom demanded as sopping remnants of paper plates curled in the dish rack.

“You said wash them, so I was just trying to ...”

“Burton William, use your common sense! You can’t wash paper plates!”

“But you said ... “

“You are just being as obstinate as possible trying to get out of dishes.”

“Can I go outside and play now?”

“No. Rewash all those dishes. The real ones. They’ve got slimy paper pieces of paper plates all over them. And throw the rest of those paper plates away!”

Like I said, it’s picnic season, time to stock up on the throwaways. But I always buy paper plates instead of those plastic ones. I’ve just gotta throw something away. And it won’t be my two-by-fours.


send email to cole at, on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter. He’ll print it out, then use the backside of the paper for his shopping list.

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