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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Hand Me Downs

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Julia King tells her own story of the changing seasons and of the hand-me-downs that come with the cold.


CURWOOD: Reduce, reuse, and recycle, the environmental mantra goes. And commentator Julia King, she's getting into the swing of it. At least the reuse part. All one needs is a bit of a deaf ear to the other mantra in America, these days: Conspicuous consumption. Especially when it comes to kids and clothes.

KING: When the days grow shorter, leaves drop from the trees and the air grows crisp. It's that time again. That time is when parents experience the joy of coming together with a child and sorting through clothes for the next season. That time often means the presentation of the environmentally sound, economically wise, age-old hand-me-down.

Hand-me-downs are wonderful clothes with history and personality, and also they are free. Parents, due to their genetic and fiscal makeup, love hand-me-downs. Children, due to an apparent desire to make their parents loony, hate hand-me-downs.

For better or worse, the ritual goes something like this. My up to this minute perfectly healthy daughter puts on a pair of hot pink pants from her cousin, and suddenly she is unable to stand. Her legs wobble. Her feet turn in. Her head begins to swirl in circles. "They don't fit! They don't fit!" she screams like a hyena. I pretend not to notice. I pull out shirts that will match the pants. "Those are great," I say. "Try this shirt." The shirt immediately turns her spine to rubber. Waves ripple through her body as she grabs for the tag in the back. "It's scratchy, it's scratchy!" she says, like Jan in The Brady Bunch itching powder episode. She hops up and down while I fawn over a pair of plaid overalls with a big rip in the crotch. "I can sew that up in no time," I smile, pretending I can sew.

As one torturous outfit replaces the next, time begins to slow. Both parent and child are sure we've been at this for days, months, maybe longer. And then it happens. "You ought to be grateful to have clothes at all," I say. "Do you know there are children with nothing to wear? Even in winter, no coats, no shoes, nothing. How would you like that?" I ask. She would not like that, she concedes. I continue like the parents of untold generations past, like the grownups on the Charlie Brown specials: Wa wa wa wa, landfills overflowing. Wa wa wa wa, exploited garment workers. Wa wa wa, gratitude.

My daughter, rumpled and battle-weary, looks at the heap of clothes on her bedroom floor. Then she looks into my eyes. "Okay," she says. So, she'll learn to live with plaid overalls. Which means I guess I'll have to learn to sew. And it's over. I've done my job, she's done her job. There's nothing more to do. Until spring comes.

(Music up and under: Vivaldi's "Primavera" from The Four Seasons)

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us via the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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