While cleaning up after the gift exchange on Christmas morning, I realized that I was rubbing out the wrinkles and folding the tissue and pretty paper, just like Mom and Granny always did.

Granny would also untie and roll up the ribbon, and put a little tape on it to hold it together. She would then carefully place it in a box. She wrote “ribbon” on that box, and she also put the paper in one of the discarded shirt boxes. She put these boxes in the big closet in the room we called the den. Its closet was full of boxes labeled “ribbon,” “Christmas paper,” “wrapping paper,” “cloth scraps,” and other collected stuff that might be useful later. That “den” had once been a bedroom. Daddy had made a door into the kitchen and there was also one into the hall. It was useful because you could go through the kitchen to your room without Daddy seeing you if he was watching TV.

We used the room for sewing, piano practice, and courting out of sight of Daddy, but mostly it was full of discarded items that were too good to throw away.

While I continued to fold that paper and ribbon, I decided I wouldn’t save it and it went neatly to the trash, because I don’t think that shiny stuff is recyclable. I did notice that there were more gifts in bags this year than ever. I do appreciate that you can use the bags over and over, and I will definitely “re-gift” in those bags.

I have always saved stuff to reuse and recycle, but not to the extent that Granny did. She saved everything, “because of the Depression,” she said. I remember she had a huge ball of aluminum. (We had a neighbor, George Monteith that called it al-u-minny-um – I love that.) Anyhow Granny would rub out the wrinkles of the used aluminum foil and add it to the big ball. You could add to it or use it, but she would not throw any away. She was sure Alcoa was going to run out of raw material to make foil and would have to buy back all the aluminum balls that little old ladies like her were saving, and she was going to make a good sale.

I’ve sorted through most of the things in Mom’s house, but I haven’t found that big aluminum ball. I’m going to continue to look. When I find it, I’ll add it to the string ball made from strings she unraveled from the 25-pound bags of flour Mom opened at the store to scoop out one or two cups for someone who just needed a little to make a pan of biscuits. I also found a rubber band ball. I plan to donate all these “balls” to the Bryson City Courthouse museum. I think artifacts that show how people lived are as appropriate as old furniture. I also found several quilts that were make from recycled fabric, not the “crazy quilt” that so artfully used scraps, but functional, cover-the-children quilts. These quilts are made from long strips of corduroy or any other kind of fabric pieced together on the machine and filled – sometimes with an old blanket or old raggedy quilt – and then backed with flour or feed sacks. These definitely are museum-worthy.

Well, my dirty house is calling me, but I’m going to put another log on the fire and make some cream of tomato soup before I see what artifacts I can find in my own house.

I may have already shared this recipe – I call it “Not Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup” – but since I can’t remember, here it is:

Heat one pint of tomatoes with a large slice of onion, a bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and salt/pepper. While this is cooking, in a separate sauce pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons of flour and blend well. Then add 2 cups of milk to make a sauce.

When the onion is soft, take out the bay leaf and blend the tomato and onion. (I use my handy-dandy, hand-held blender).

Add the sauce to the tomatoes, and whisk it a couple of times. Add a little cheese of your choice and parsley or basil as a garnish, and I don’t think you will ever open a can of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup again.