Salvage collected since pre-electricity era finds new home via Craigslist.
What started as a neat way to use the internet to get rid of a bunch of wood and jars started feeling like a humanitarian effort that was making a difference in the community.
A product of the depression, neighbors told me that he was a very frugal man that raised a large family on the property and over a period of more than 50 years never had a trash service. He never threw anything away! Every item that no longer was used in its original form was disassembled, flattened, sorted, or buried, depending on what it was. In addition to the frame home where he raised his family, there are seven other structures on the property ranging from hay barns, workshops, and storage sheds. These structures all have one thing in common: They were constructed with lumber and materials that were from old buildings and salvage. These outbuildings also contained more salvaged materials waiting for a rebirth. One shed is completely sided with metal from old family refrigerators, oil cans, tin, and whatever else was available. The entire exterior of another is sided with multicolored roofing shingles salvaged from when he was a roofer decades earlier. It seemed appropriate that as we were cleaning the buildings and preparing to convert his old woodworking shop into a cottage that we let the spirit of the man and his conservative nature continue on. I didn’t realize that my solution would have such a profound effect on my understanding of what it really means to be a member of a community and how to recycle
What do you do with four buildings full of scraps of wood, metal, and a thousand jars that have not been touched in decades? Do I burn the wood? Recycle the glass? My answer came with the Craigslist free store. I’ll give it away! While my intention was to get rid of the materials in an environmentally responsible way, I would ultimately learn that I would receive back much more than I gave through the people I met and the stories that they would share with me. I placed an ad in the “free” section of the Tyler/East Texas Craigslist for “free jars and wood.” How do you accurately describe 50 years worth of wood scraps? In the ad I mentioned that the wood was suitable for building birdhouses or small construction projects, the jars were good for canning etc. As expected, I immediately started receiving emails, calls, and texts. I had plenty to go around and everyone was welcome to take whatever they wanted, so I gave them each directions and set up times for them to come over.
Who shops the Craigslist “free” store?
I didn’t know what to expect from the people who would respond to my listing. I guess I had a bit of concern over security and wondered if they would return and break in, vandalize, or murder me! One word that accurately characterizes the visitors is “resourceful.” They weren’t looking for hand outs, they were using available resources to save money, improve their lives, or because they had a deeply rooted philosophical belief in sharing across their community. Several had posted their own belongings on the “free” store for others to have. While I found each person's story interesting, I’ll focus on the three that made the biggest impression on me.
Pay it forward
The first visitor drove from a small community about 10 miles further East in Hawkins, Texas. She was a middle aged woman interested in both the wood and jars. Upon entering the workshop she let out an “Oh my!” when she saw the quantity of wood stuffed into the building. She backed her old pickup truck up and I helped load it with the wood she chose. She talked the entire time about her life, her family, and why she liked the Craigslist free store. I later learned that everyone who answered the ad felt compelled to give me the “why” behind their “shopping” the free store. This first visitor was surprisingly candid about her life. She had been dealing with health problems for years and lived a simple life out in the country. She occupied herself by building craft items and gardening. She had food allergies that caused her to can and preserve most of her own food. She looked at the Craigslist free store often and liked the idea of giving and receiving things through community. She told me that she answered one ad for an individual who had a deer hunting stand that needed to be moved quickly because he had lost his hunting lease and was about to lose the stand to the land owner. He wanted someone else to have it for free rather than let the landowner who cancelled his lease have it. She went and picked it up, put it on her property and then called the man back and told him he had unlimited access to her property to hunt from it whenever he wanted to. I thought to myself, Wow, what a nice gesture!
After the pickup truck was loaded, I noticed that it did not put a noticeable dent in the quantity of wood I still had and that I would be at this a while. She said she would drop the wood and come back for the jars. About an hour later she returned and I took her to the cellar where she had first crack at what I would estimate to be well over 1,000 jars dating decades back in time. I had gone through them previously and already held back some of the old mason jars, pottery crocks, and Superman Peter Pan jars that I thought were neat and collectable. We filled the bed of her truck with jars, the entire time with her explaining what type of food she would place in the different types of jars.
I was about to send her on her way with a wave, but she hesitated a moment and went into the cab of her pickup and retrieved a small mason jar. She said that she had something for me. She qualified it by saying that if I didn’t feel comfortable taking it that she understood but that she wanted to give me something she thought could be helpful to me and my family. The jar was filled with a deep purple liquid stuffed with small purple berries. She explained that because of her allergies, she is unable to take antibiotics and must rely on home remedies. This was one of her most precious resources – her “Elderberry tincture.”
This was at the height of the Swine Flu scare and she said this was more effective than Tamiflu at lessening the effects of swine flu, and if taken daily, it would help keep me from getting it. When I asked her what the recipe was, she said it was “Elderberries that had been soaking in Vodka for more than a month.” Her prescription was to take a tablespoon a day and to crush the berries in her mouth, but not to chew the seeds because they had small amounts of arsenic in them. She quickly responded to my blank expression by saying that it is a very small amount of arsenic and that apple seeds have the same thing. She promised me she wasn’t going to poison me. She went on to say that people who get the flu should increase the dose to 3 tablespoons per day.
I took the Elixir from her, but was a bit skeptical. Later that day I researched it on the internet and learned that on average, elderberry tincture reduced swine flu symptoms to three days versus Tamiflu that took five to six days. As it turned out, elderberry juice was all the rage on the World Wide Web. I was rejuvenated with her talk of a supportive community and her caring gestures. I couldn’t wait for the next customer.
My next visitors were a couple that I would estimate to be in their late 40s. She was a school teacher and he was an unemployed carpenter. They too were from a small community in the area. He had been out of work for the past eight months and had been struggling to get by. He said that he was tired of sitting home doing nothing and wanted to try and redo the kitchen for his wife but had no financial resources to afford the materials. He thought that perhaps the wood I advertised could give him a start. They methodically sorted through the stacks of wood. He took his time and identified each type of wood as he sifted through it – he knew his wood varieties. When he noticed the large number of 1 x 4 pine boards, he got the idea that if he routed the sides of them into a tongue and groove board that he could install new pine wood floors in her kitchen. She lit up and the pace of their search intensified, locating every 1 x 4 board around. They stopped when they thought they had enough. They also took some drawer faces that were left over from desks and cabinets that had long ago been dissembled. They were both noticeably happier. He had a smile on his face, perhaps thinking about how he could be useful again and give something to his wife in his unemployment. She was excited at the prospect of a new hardwood floor. How could I have ever thought of just burning all this old wood?
The second weekend I had a visitor that was a well-heeled older gentleman that drove up alone in a late model sedan. He was interested in looking at the wood and focused on the small thin plywood and pieces of trim. Once I knew what he wanted, I helped him locate more. As with the others, the need to tell me the “why” behind his use of the Craigslist free store hit him. He explained that his wife of many years had been diagnosed with cancer a few months back and she had several surgeries since. She found it difficult to get around, so to occupy her time and take her mind off her illness, he encouraged her to make bird houses, which she enjoyed doing. She could not stand or get around much, so he wanted small pieces of wood that did not need to be cut that she could put together and work on easily. He said that with all the medical bills, their finances were strained. There is something about hearing his story and visualizing his wife in my mind that made me take special care with the wood I chose for her, searching for just the right size pieces that would be easy for her to work with or the interesting types of wood to give her variety and perhaps joy. When he left, I felt an overwhelming emotional and melancholy feeling. What started as a neat way to use the internet to get rid of a bunch of wood and jars started feeling like a humanitarian effort that was making a difference in the community. It felt really good.
I continued posting “free wood and jars” on the free store for many weeks and only after more than a dozen visitors did I make a noticeable dent in my inventory. I like to think that the former owner of the property who went to great lengths to save and store each item would appreciate the practical end use that met his possessions. The experience ended up being an almost surreal blending of the old and the new. Salvage collected since before electricity found a new home through the internet. Nice job, Craig!
Oh, and I never did get Swine Flu!