Waste not, want not

By Kris Ferrazza | Jan 31, 2020

Blame it on the starling.

After all, she’s the one who set everything in motion when she christened our new living room. She made a crash landing in our fireplace during a snowstorm. Likely she was warming her toes atop the chimney when a gust of winter wind blew her down two stories into our parlor, where she sat trapped.

It was a snow day, so my daughter and I were home from school. We were watching a movie when we heard a familiar rustling. Soon, wings started beating against the glass doors of the fireplace. The panicky bird’s thrashing made us leave the room, taking the dog with us.

I texted my husband: “Heroic rescue after work. Be ready.” He knows the drill.

“I’ll deal with it when I get home,” my hero responded. Phew.

Once Tim arrived, he donned gloves, opened windows on either side of the fireplace, and slid the fireplace doors apart. In the past he’s had good luck catching whatever was inside, and released it quickly through an adjacent window, but this bird was wily. It darted past him and flew around the parlor.

“Oh no,” Elizabeth cried. “The walls!”

Flap, flap.

“Dad, do something!”

I peeked in as the bird zoomed toward a freshly painted wall and vandalized it with her sooty feathers.

“No,” I groaned.

But she wasn’t done yet. As my husband dashed around the room, hastily opening every window, the intruder christened all four white walls with the ash from her wings. We watched in silent horror.

Just for good measure, she ricocheted off the ceiling a couple of times, leaving her mark there as well, then shot out a front window to freedom.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” I muttered, closing the window.

It took us nearly 20 years to remodel that living room, and she had muddied it up in under a minute. It hadn’t even been a month. My husband had taken down the ceiling and carefully exposed the original beams. We agonized over paint samples, fabric swatches and furniture. Once we finally had it the way we wanted it, that dirty bird had to crash our party.

“What was it, anyway?” my husband asked, still stunned and looking out the window.

I checked Google quick.

“It was a starling, darling,” I said.

Oddly enough, part of me was relieved once the new room was “broken in,” I can’t deny it. That bird did me a favor. I’ve never really been comfortable with new things. New shoes and new clothes make me antsy. I stretch them out and scuff them up as fast as I can. “Lived in” is my comfort zone.

I’m sure this comes from my parents. My father always drove used cars, and joked, “They’re not broken in until they hit 100,000 miles.” My mother and I loved to hunt for bargains in consignment shops and thrift stores. We’d crow about the money we saved on brand name clothes and shoes.

Both of my parents collected antiques, and taught us to appreciate old things. Not only did they have “character,” they would say, but why would we buy something new when we could recycle something that still worked just fine?

“Waste not, want not,” they would say.

In hindsight, I’m sure with five young children, some of this homespun philosophy came from financial necessity. Money was tight, and we could always get by with what we had.

The old saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” comes to mind. It definitely was the way we lived, and I still do to this day.

Years ago I remember baking a cake and my sister laughing at my electric hand mixer.

“Where did you get that thing? It looks like it’s from the 1960s!” she howled. “You need a Kitchen Aid!”

I explained I had picked it up somewhere, and that I loved it because it was small, took up zero counter space, and stored easily in a cupboard. She shook her head in disbelief.

“I’ll upgrade when this one wears out,” I shrugged.

Well, as it turns out, sometimes waiting for things to wear out can be dangerous. A short time later, I went to plug in my beloved mixer and a bolt of electricity shot up one arm, across my chest and down the other arm. I screamed and dropped the mixer as a flash of blue light zapped out of my hand.

“Are you okay, mama?” my daughter asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Do I look okay?”

She turned up her little hands, not really sure, so I went to the bathroom mirror to see for myself. I half-expected to have hair like Cruella Deville and no eyebrows. But I looked fine, just a little pale. A small triangular burn marked my hand where I had been holding the mixer. I investigated and found the cord was frayed, and when I plugged it in, I had touched exposed wires on the underside of the plug.

Needless to say, it went into the trash, and my sister bought me a stand mixer. I hated using it, though, because it was so fancy and new. I like to save new things for a special occasion, yet nothing ever seems quite special enough.

This recently hit home when I emptied the glass cabinet in my parlor as we prepared to paint. Inside was a treasure trove: preschool art projects, paw prints, hand prints, embroidered Mickey Mouse ears and more. Then there were new things I had bought for a fancy dinner party I had imagined I’d have someday. The problem is, I never had the party. Or I did, and decided the guests weren’t special enough to break out the super-special china.

As I unpacked the cabinet, I found eight beautiful Italian water glasses I’d bought 20 years ago for a special occasion. They had been gilded in gold, but now were tarnished and ruined. I’d never even used them once. The glasses were a metaphor for missed opportunities, I decided. I needed to change my ways.

With my new “carpe diem,” live-for-today mindset, my family went out and splurged on something we’ve wanted for a long time: a new smart TV. Yes, even though our small, outdated, non-smart TV still worked fine, we bought a new television. But this isn’t just any old TV.

Tim had wanted to put a TV over the fireplace in our living room for some time. I had resisted, especially since we had gone to great lengths to make it look like Olde Sturbridge Village. I just didn’t want to look at a shiny black flatscreen TV over the mantle. So we compromised.

When this new TV is off, it takes on the appearance of a painting. It’s ingenious. So sometimes there is a Rembrandt over the mantle, and other days it’s the “Mona Lisa.” Some mornings I wake up and find “The Last Supper” glowing in the parlor, then after school I find my daughter has put up a Picasso.

We’re having fun with it, and maybe it’s not so bad having something new. I’d say I’m waiting for the starling to fly back in and have her way with it, but we capped the chimney, so we aren’t expecting visitors anytime soon.

And the beat goes on.

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