Deep within the heart of our American spirit, dwells that pioneer need to create a nest for ourselves and our family. Women have always relied on “know how” and ingenuity to accomplish their dreams and fill needs. The American woman is always resourceful.
Our first home was a cracker box with two bedrooms, one bath, a wall furnace, no air, and just enough space to sit an oak rocking chair in the living room so that I could crack a shin on it every night as I passed it by, coming and going, on the way to the kitchen to fix baby bottles. I sold that rocking chair for $3 at a yard sale and my husband has not forgiven me, yet.
For the down payment for our first home, we painted the house. In Amarillo, Texas, we prayed every month for money to pay the house payment of $57. This was not an easy task when the monthly wage was $200 and we had four little ones to rear.
We loved that little house. We planted our first garden there, birthed our twins there, looked to the future by planting asparagus and hollyhocks (the wait was three years before it was old enough to produce.) We relied on ingenuity to build and expand our little home and make it our own piece of heaven. My husband helped demolish an old drive-in burger joint so that he could use lumber and crimp sheet metal for a roof on his shed and build a carport.
When my father had died, my mom decided that she would buy herself a new car, one for my brother and one for me. We picked out a green, Dodge, nine-passenger, station wagon, model 1969 and it cost a whopping $4,000. Hence, the need for a carport-since Amarillo regulary has hailstones the size of golf balls. We were in tall cotton, folks. With no idea that the government considered us living below the poverty level. We felt very blessed and worked too hard to worry about our place in the pecking order of capitalism.
Along the path of discovery, I happened to find out about “lay-a-way” and our little nest needed furniture, curtains and carpet? Problem being, lay-a-way needed Cash. Being the carpenter and “fix it” guy, my husband Mel was employed installing carpet and flooring for a living. On the nights after all was quiet in the house, sleep did not come because of worry, but prayers gave peace that together, we would find a way to manage.
We always looked at many things other people threw away as “resources” and we probably were one of the first “recyclers” in our neighborhood. New rolls of carpet came in heavy paper that was reinforced with nylon mesh. When the installers came out on a job and cut in the pad and the carpet, all the little scraps of pad and carpet, were wrapped up in that heavy paper, thrown in the back of their truck and tossed into the carpet company dumpster the next morning so that they could load up for that day of work.
Our house had wood floors, cold and splintery-not baby friendly. My mind starts working on a revolutionary plan. Dream or nightmare? Sharing thoughts and possibilities with the female neighbors, both families have the same old worn out floors and we shared a need for financial creativity.
The neighborhood schemers came up with a plan. Nancy had kids and agreed to keep my babies while I was “out” running around. Elsie had twins like mine, so Nancy obliged when she needed to help so Elsie could be “out” with me on our mission for “free” carpet for three houses.
We decided to pick up the scrap pad, paper and carpet at all the carpet stores every morning and haul it back to Elsie’s garage and sort it out by color. I had the perfect car for the job and I knew all the locations of the stores.
Each of our homes had a different color scheme. Nancy would take the pad, paper and scraps of golden-colored carpets. Elsie would take the pad, paper and scraps of everything avocado green (which was in abundance here in the 1970s), and I would take the primary colors, whites and what-not to carpet our children’s room.
Every morning we worked diligently for months until Elsie’s garage was bulging with piles of scraps and we needed the floors covered before winter or the mice moved in, whichever happened first. We were dumpster diving with purpose, to create a more comfortable nest in each home.
Elsie and I rotated climbing in the dumpster and tossing the stuff out, with the other person being the ‘look out’ and loading the car. We were women on a mission, focused on our goal. Well, we never thought about who might be sharing the same dumpster with the carpet company? Can you imagine we might have been in for a few shocks or surprises?
One morning in a really tall dumpster with a wide door, it was my morning to climb in and toss out our treasure. I was hollering for Elsie’s attention. She had quit tossing bundles into the car; she was ignoring me with a funny look on her face. It was one of those speechless faces of being found out. You know that bug-eyed, mouth open look that every parent recognizes? She had seen a person carrying a big box come out of a building moving straight for the dumpster, right where I happened to be standing. She didn’t know what to do, so she did nothing.
Well I got the entire box of sloppy trash, dumped right on top of my head, upside down! The carpet company shared a dumpster with a Mexican restaurant and the box was full of old tortillas, lettuce, onion skins, beer bottles, and lots of warm, old, sticky, beer! Here I stood, bug-eyed and mouth open! I wore it all home with me; smelling like a brewery and pulling wilted lettuce out of my bra. Laughing we loaded up and headed for home, beer was good for your hair, wasn’t it?
Decisions made: enough carpet scraps! I had had enough of these dumpster-diving adventures and considering what had just happened, we were all motivated to finish the “shagged” carpet caper. We called in the troops-the men.
Always a man of invention, my husband put down the pieces of padding, using duc-tape to hold edges in puzzle shapes. Then put a wall to wall piece of that heavy paper and stapled it firmly around the walls. Finally, he cut in the scraps and glued them to the paper. Our chosen pieces were squares and rectangles all tightly stuck together, thick and thin, long and short. Our floor was covered with a patchwork of colors not unlike a certain “coat of many colors.” (aka: King David or possibly: Dolly Parton).
The children marveled at the different textures and colors, wanting to lie on the floor better than their beds. We eventually moved and left that all behind but last we heard, that little patches of purloined, shagged, colorful carpet in that children’s room was still there and had lasted for over thirty years plus.
An example of cooperation and an idea, this was a time in history where ingenuity was a way of life in America. It was the actual invention of thinking “outside” the box. We were fortunate because if I could think it up
—my husband could make it happen, well mostly, well sometimes.
The reality was that we found our answer out of the box and feathered our nest-in the box!