Frances Stebbins Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
In the years when I walked a mile daily in the Hollins community and later in Salem with its sidewalks, I carried a plastic bag in which to place aluminum cans. Certain streets like Idaho and Indiana often yielded a half dozen or so as beer-drinking collegians cast them to the roadside.
At home, I’d wash and crush the cans. When I got a bag full, I’d take them down the hill to the Hedge Metals collection facility where a young woman worked daily in what must qualify as the dirtiest place of employment anywhere around.
She might pay me as much as one dollar for my collection; usually the payoff was in coins. Whatever the amount, I’d put it in the small blue box my denomination has long designated as the United Thank Offering (UTO) which is used for various mission efforts.
The idea is that when one experiences a blessing, perhaps in answer to a prayer or anything that elicits a thankful response to God, one or more coins are dropped in the Blue Box. In my mother’s time, the offering carried the phrase “from the Women of the Church.” That was before women became something besides second-class members in the 1970s. They could serve on governing boards and even be ordained to the ministry which many have been.
Recently, I asked the young woman how she could work in the heat and dirt that all the discarded metals generated. She smiled and told me she liked making a difference in keeping usable metals out of landfills.
I thought her reason somewhat inspiring. It led me to reflect on another not-so-small effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: The disposable blue masks so many wear to prevent contagion are being carelessly discarded in places like the Roanoke River.
It’s the time of year for thinking of the environment with various clean-up and Earth Day observances. At one time in a more rural day, prayers were sometimes offered on farms for the coming season.
At a church I once attended in Roanoke, the congregation would have a morning service on the farm of one of its members living in Botetourt. As we stopped at the barn, animal pens, garden, and field-specific prayers were said that the coming growing months would be fruitful ones.
Certainly, blue masks do not belong in the Roanoke River or our numerous large creeks that rise in the nearby mountains.
It seems that soon the masks we have become accustomed to over the past 13 months will become a souvenir of this year of the respiratory pandemic that occurred approximately a century after the one our elders may have told us of.
Soon after the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, I learned through a church newsletter of a seamstress in Salem who was sewing pretty cloth masks, selling them for $5 each and giving a portion of the profit to her church or a non-profit group. I bought several by going to her home where she fitted them expertly.
Later, I found others and liked especially those knitted and snugly fitting. Each time I wore one out of the house, I’d wash it in hot soapy water on return home and, when dry, I’d iron it for sterilization.
Who would have thought any of us –other than medical/dental workers –would become such experts on facial coverings?
It’s a good time to stock up on hand sanitizers as stores reduce the supplies they acquired over the months. Using them and applying preventive measures such as thorough hand washing and face-covering has caused several people I know to remark on their absence of colds the past season.
The wall of a basement room in my small house is brightened by a large poster bearing the Old Testament words God is reported to have said: ”I Am the Great I AM.” The poster, which was given to me around 1990, represents a short-lived trend and is the last of several I owned. They adorned homes and rooms used for religious education with such inscriptions as “When the Outlook is Bad, Try Looking Up.”
For being made by paper, the posters had a limited life and it’s been years since I have seen any. Like eternal seasons, they came and went, but my souvenir reminds me of the many names Scripture calls God.