I leave for work, as you are no doubt getting very tired of hearing, extremely early in the morning. My bus arrives at 6:50 am, and I am fortunate that the bus stop is practically at my front door, so I can dash out around 6:49 am and still make it. It’s a small luxury, to be this close to a method of transportation that you don’t own, I recognize that, and I am very grateful for the HSR and this bus route in particular.
Because I leave so early I don’t eat breakfast. At home, that is. I find it difficult to eat at such an ungodly hour, so I have been bringing breakfast to work with me, and depending on my information desk schedule I can usually squeeze my breakfast in somewhere between 8 and 9 am. Not too bad at all.
Sometimes I bring a smoothie I made that morning or the night before, but when I returned from my leave while my son was recovering, I noticed our workplace toaster. And this was quite the revelation.
It’s not new, this toaster. I am pretty sure it’s always been here – at least as long as I’ve been here – but back in February while I was waiting for the kettle to boil for my morning tea I thought “I can bring things to toast in that toaster!” and that changed my world.
So now I bring a bagel or English muffin with cheese or marmalade or something and I can have these bread products TOASTED which is much nicer than having them UNtoasted, and I honestly look forward to this new ritual every day. My life is VERY EXCITING PLEASE TRY NOT TO BE JEALOUS.
When I pack my breakfast and lunch, I mostly used wax paper for wrapping things like sandwiches, cut up cheese to have with crackers, cookies, etc. When I unwrap these things and then consume them, I fold up the wax paper (or ball it up if something leaked on it) and place it back in my lunchbox. I understand this is…unusual, or…perhaps even downright weird. It’s ok, I get it.
In high school, I began taking my lunch daily. For both elementary and middle school, we all went home for lunch unless there was something special going on (choir, sports, band, etc.) This was the 1970s, friends, and most of us lived less than 10 minutes away from the school, so going home for lunch was a thing. It was The Flintstones and Big Al’s Cartoon Capers, (“The cartoons are comin’ your way!) and tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, and it was life.
But my high school was too far to go home every day for lunch, and I also joined a lot of groups which met at lunchtime, so I brought my lunch. And I used what we had in the kitchen to wrap my sandwiches, and that was wax paper.
My mum was a big fan of wax paper. By this time, in the early 80s, plastic wrap had taken over, and that’s what most of my friends had. Sandwiches and vegetables wrapped in plastic that you just threw away afterwards. What a concept. My food, wrapped in its milky white parchment-like shroud, seemed exotic to my friends and it turned me into the one thing I absolutely hated: being different. At the time, my goal was to be just like everybody else, as much as possible. This only lasted a year or two, by grade 11 I wanted to stand out, but those first few years, eating lunch with the other bandies in the music room, I didn’t want the attention that wax paper brought upon me.
Which…is ridiculous, right? Who the hell cares what your food is wrapped in? Well, I did. And so I asked my mum to buy Glad plastic wrap next time she went grocery shopping. And I did so off-handedly like it was no big deal. And my mother flat out refused.
Wax paper, she told me, could be reused. It was sturdy, and it was biodegradable – at least more biodegradable than plastic – and, it was cheaper.
My mother, you see, was an avid recycler from way back. She saved newspapers and bottles for people who would come around to collect them to sell. She flattened aluminum tins and saved those too. She recruited me to remove the little windows from envelopes so that the paper could be recycled. Eventually, our city got a recycling program (doesn’t it feel weird that at one point everything just went in the garbage?) and the collecting people no longer came around, and all the papers, bottles, and tins went in the blue box. But until then, our front porch was a storage area for recyclables before anyone really knew what recycling was.
She was also one of the first in our neighbourhood to compost kitchen waste, and she would even save the apple cores at the school where she worked and bring large bags of these cores home to put in the composter, rather than have kids and staff throw their fruit scraps in the garbage. People thought she was so weird (she kind of was but in a nice way) but she didn’t let it bother her and she remained diligent about the importance of reducing, reusing, recycling. So much so that one year she was awarded special golden blue boxes (not real gold) for diverting nearly 90% of her household waste from landfill. I don’t remember our family of four ever having more than a single bag of garbage on any given week, sometimes one in two weeks, sometimes none at all. She was a machine.
And this is the woman that I tried to convince to buy me some damn cling wrap so I could be like everyone else at lunch. Nice try, kid.
So even today, at age 52, I wrap the parts of my lunch that require wrapping in wax paper. We have cling wrap in our household (shocking!) and we even have Ziploc bags (the horror!) but I am insistent that those get washed and reused until they spring a leak or rip. And wax paper can now, if it can’t be reused, go in the green bin. See? She sure was on to something.
My kids rolled their eyes at the sandwiches they would pull out of their lunch bags, tightly and perfectly wrapped in wax paper. But they too would save the paper, balling it and throwing it back in the bag to bring home where I could smooth it out and determine if it could be reused. If not, it went into the green bin, my mother’s legacy intact.
It’s astounding that I’ve written over 1000 words (mostly) on the subject of wax paper (and if you’re still here and reading, well thanks and congratulations I guess?) but it was on my mind this morning as I made my lunch. And then, of course, my thoughts drifted to my mum, the wax paper advocate.
On May 5 she will have been dead nine years, and it was around this time of year in 2010 that she started to feel unwell. It’s a funny thing how the body remembers, how the melancholy can start to seep into your day to day world and little, trivial things become shockingly important without you really even realizing why.
I miss her just as much as I did nine years ago, but the absence is less raw than it was. It still hurts, and it hurts a lot, but now when I remember those little, insignificant things – like how she fiercely defended wax paper and recycled like it was her job – it no longer feels like a punch to the gut. There’s more of a fondness now, more smiles, fewer tears, although the tears still do come, and often when you least expect it. I imagine they always will.
So next time you are wrapping a sandwich, considering pouring one out – or tearing one off I guess – for Pat.
Your mum sounds amazing. It does seem weird that we once just threw everything in the garbage. I think people still don’t recycle as mindfully as your mother did back then. It SHOULD be our JOB to recycle and know where all our waste goes. I have daughters who just want to fit in too and I keep thinking, “why would anyone want to fit in?” But they are young and I understand and hopefully they will grow out of it too.
Thank you for your thoughts, Melanie, and thanks for reading! I think we all find our own individual way eventually, no doubt your daughters will do the same. 🙂