I thought I was the green-living expert, till my father's Yankeeisms opened my eyes.
My father has been stealthily rescuing the planet. He'd refer to himself as a frugal New Englander trained to turn off lights and live by the mantra waste not, want not. He'd never call himself an environmentalist – a title reserved for hippies, Democrats, and the state of Vermont. I'd long ago branded myself the environmentalist of the family, based on my devout canvas-bag toting, enthusiasm for organic broccoli, and the ability to pronounce the names of evil toxins like "phthalates" (THA-layts).
As a kid, I ignored my dad's commitment to buying eggs from a nearby family, his annual opposition to store-bought Christmas gifts, and his infamous plea to persuade a local clothing store to hand over the loaner socks they would no longer be using. He finally came home triumphant one day, waving a pair of dingy white tube socks of two different lengths. "Girls!" he shouted, calling my mother, sister, and me into the kitchen to see the socks. He smiled like a Cheshire cat. "They were free!"
He converted to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) years before it became popular. "These bulbs will outlive me," I remember him saying with a far-off look in his eye. I complained that it took 15 minutes for the light to come on in the bathroom, and I didn't want to endure that for the rest of his life. It took me several more years and a couple of academic degrees to switch out my own bulbs, after I'd moved to California ("Vermont West") and wasn't home so often. It was the summer I fell in love with Al Gore and told my fiancé that I threw away neither aluminum foil nor zip-lock bags, and we'd never use wrapping paper. He raised both eyebrows at what I paid for dish soap, but I told him he'd thank me later. A year later, we got married and bought a Prius.