ALEXANDRIA,VA- Long ago, in the 50s, and far away, in Brooklyn, New York, my girlfriends and I recycled, but not because we knew how important it would become. We weren’t prescient, only short on money.
Seven of us 13- and 14-year-olds had formed a club, the Hi-Lites, and we wanted club sweaters. In those days, club sweaters were in. The boys had jackets. The girls had sweaters. I can see those sweaters in my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t find anything like them on Google when I searched. Club sweaters, even vintage club sweaters, are a whole different thing these days.
How shall I describe them to you? Long sleeves. Fold over cuffs. V-necks. Buttons down the front. Hip length. Probably a patch pocket or two. Two colors. Ours were our junior high school colors: royal blue with gold letters spelling out our club name on the backs. I can’t remember if our names were embroidered on the front, but maybe.
How much did they cost? The number that sticks in my head is $11, but maybe it was as much as $15. We were kids, and the only money we had was earned from baby sitting at 25¢ an hour plus maybe some small allowance.
This was during the Korean conflict and we learned that old newspapers could be sold for cash. Some of us lived in large apartment buildings, so we went door-to-door asking our neighbors to save their papers for us. We collected them in old baby carriages and then implored the dads who had cars to drive us to the junk dealers.
How much did we earn? My friend Lois (with whom I’m still in touch after all these years!) thinks we got $10 per 100 pounds. That would translate into 10¢ a pound. I think we got more like a penny a pound. No matter. We earned enough for seven sweaters!
During summers we spent just about every day when it wasn’t raining at the beach. “The beach” was Brighton Beach rather than Coney Island, and at least an hour’s train ride away. We learned where the transfer points were so we could get from where we lived in East Flatbush to the beach on one fare. It made the ride longer but saved us some money. Once there, we collected discarded soda pop bottles (soda came in glass bottles then) and turned them in for 5¢ each. I think they were sterilized and reused. I don’t remember thinking about that then, only that we earned our hot dog and knish money that way.
I’ve recently heard from friends in Alexandria that their churches collected and sold used newspapers back then and that as kids they, too, collected and turned in soda pop bottles they found tossed along the road.
Now our newspapers are picked up by recycling companies and glass recycling is becoming more and more a challenge. I know those days weren’t all fun, but still I miss the simple exchange of collecting newspapers for club sweaters and glass bottles for lunch.