Gleaning: A Poor Man’s Harvest?

glean 1. To go over a harvested field and gather by hand any usable parts of the crop that remain   2. To collect information in small amounts over a period of time

gleanings 1. Usable parts of a crop that are left behind in a harvested field and can be gathered in by hand   2. Objects or ideas that have been gathered or amassed over a period of time, especially when they form a collection or comprehensive whole

 

Ever throw out a tattered dress or shirt with the buttons still on? Or a pair of pants with a “perfectly good” zipper? (Brief audio flashback to my grandmother’s voice.)

Gleanings. There was a time, not so long ago in our history, when those buttons would have been cut off that dress or shirt and any fabric that could be restored to favor got salvaged into great grandma’s next quilt. And lets not forget the rest of the scraps that found favor as rags for household chores.

Leave it to an ephemera junkie to think about gleaning as she sorts through bags of 100 year old buttons and snaps and hooks and eyes  oh my! on a Sunday afternoon.

Gleanings. Clipped off tattered clothing and passed from Ray’s grandmother’s hands to his mother’s to mine.

“What’s the difference between gleaning and hoarding?” I wonder out loud, as I separate buttons into glass jars.

“Purpose.” Responds my right-brained husband, as he prepares a gleaned canvas for his next painting.

Sigh of relief. Well, then that makes us gleaners.

Gleaners. Wait! There’s no such word in either of our dictionaries. Even endangered species get a mention in Webster’s.

Perhaps “gleaners” are part of an invisible culture – a secret, shameful culture spoken of in hushed tones – and gleaning an invisible tradition. I mean, where there is gleaning there is evidence of waste first – and needful purpose second. I remember hearing once that gleaning was outlawed. Was that somewhere in Europe? And, today, many farmers are no longer allowed to gather and save their seeds unless they wish to be sued. (Patents, you know. Kind of makes you want to hoard doesn’t it?)

Oh, and by the way, where gleaning is purpose-generated, hoarding is fear-generated. It is a fine line one crosses over between the two but that is for another post when I am wearing my professional clutter clearing helmet. Right now, I am wearing my artist’s beret.

Buttons & Ray Up Close

Then there is gleaning as it relates to definition two and the gathering of information and ideas and beliefs and experience and wisdom …

As I look at this shot of Ray at the canvas, through his grandmother’s gleanings, I can’t help but think about how proud she would be of him and what he has gleaned from all of his life experience and how he forms that into a purposeful, “comprehensive whole.”

And I can’t help but wonder if she will forgive me my impracticality, as my purpose for these buttons is an artistic one. Providing closure of a re-fashioned kind. Artists make great gleaners, by the way. “They drag some of the strangest things home.” says she, in a hushed tone.

Pssst. Any gleaners out there with stories to share? This is the place where your talent and vision for utilizing the un-utilized will be applauded and appreciated!

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32 thoughts on “Gleaning: A Poor Man’s Harvest?

  • June 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm
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    Gleaning? Hoarding? How do you strike a balance?

    Upcycling? Artistic expression? What merits a gleaning-spree in YOUR book? 🙂

    • June 25, 2011 at 9:11 am
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      Or … are you an intellectual gleaner? A collector of ideas and life experience?

    • June 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm
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      Thank you for explaining the difference between the two. Although I do still consider myself a hoarding gleaner. Too much stuff? No, there isn’t such a thing when, as you say, there is a purpose. On another note. I have created a legacy. My 4 year old grandson stopped on our walk to pick up a handful of petals from a flowering tree. When his mother said throw those down. He replied ” We can do something with them” and handed them to me for safe keeping. He also pulls things from the recycling with a certainty that it can become art material. Yes, he makes me proud. Oh yes, and yesterday I convinced my other half to pull some Christmas ornaments out of our “moved out” neighbors trash. Am I bad.

      • June 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm
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        “Moved out” neighbor’s trash CAN be the best. You’ve got a good man there! 🙂 As for your grandson, your creative genius IS a great legacy.

        By the way, I keep gleaning more things to put in your 2 bags by the door. I may have to graduate to 3 if I don’t connect with you this week … It’s getting to be quite an odd assortment … heheheh …

  • June 25, 2011 at 10:24 am
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    Interesting Bernadette that this thought actually came up for me recently. I thought about throwing out the pants with the good zipper in fact…buttons, now, why didn’t I think of that? LOL But it also reminds me of another saying my Mother was fond of: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” In the age of ‘disposable’ relationships, it can be easy to do just that…and there’s always a lot of good baby to focus on instead of the gray water…once again, perception. Thanks for refocusing my awareness!! <3

    • June 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm
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      Ahhhh … yes …. great thought there, Shellie. God knows, were it not for our gleaning tendencies, Ray and I would have paddled our you-know-whats away from the gray waters YEARS ago. What a loss that would have been. 🙂

  • June 25, 2011 at 11:14 am
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    Some years ago, a person in my community had an idea…Why not “glean” the fields in Michigan for food for the needy…now…
    “For more than 33 years, Gleaners Community Food Bank has been “nourishing communities by feeding hungry people.” Last year, Gleaners distributed more than 36 million pounds of emergency food to over 484 partner soup kitchens, shelters and pantries in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston and Monroe counties. Of every dollar donated, Gleaners uses 96 cents for food and food programs. One dollar provides three meals for a hungry neighbor.”…Good things come from Gleaning. Thanks for the post Bernadette…

    • June 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm
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      Truly inspiring, Joseph. Thanks for bringing that to the table. (Pun intended.) Wow. 96¢ for every $1.00? That is amazing. AND efficient. Maybe our “leaders” could use some lessons on gleaning, eh? But I won’t get started on that.

    • June 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm
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      That’s so uplifting to hear, Joe! It’s obscene that anyone goes to bed hungry when there is so much food in this country that goes to waste. Gleaning “hope” from your post.

  • June 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm
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    A Woman’s Rich Harvest

    She stored all her buttons in old Ball jars
    That were lined side by side on a shelf
    Buttons, mismatched, some with threads still attached
    In the jars where she’d placed them herself

    The Ball jars stood lined in a long perfect row
    On that shelf in her atelier
    The day that she took the first Ball jar down
    And resolved to throw buttons away

    She reached in the jar and her fingers withdrew
    A bright button of mother of pearl
    Then a thought came to mind – “It’s the very same kind
    That my grandmother had when a girl”

    She emptied the rest of them out on her desk
    And began to sort chaff from the wheat
    Each button she touched birthed an old memory
    And she put them all back in defeat

    Memories lost with the passage of time
    Were reborn in her mind on the day
    That she took the first Ball jar down from a shelf
    And resolved to throw buttons away

    • June 25, 2011 at 10:56 pm
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      Brilliant, Sharron! I love it when you “break out in a poem.” You captured beautifully so many thoughts that were going through my mind that day. 🙂 Like you were sitting right there with me, looking over my shoulder. Knowing the Muse that you are, you probably were!

      • June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am
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        Love this poem…that’s what often happens to me when I try to throw things away…but I’m learning.

      • June 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm
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        Sharron, I found your poem beautiful and poignant. It is an easy thing for me to get caught up in old memories to the point that they are always fresh in my mind where they lay quietly just beneath the surface. Your story in poem of a woman’s rich harvest scratched that surface just deep enough to release a few thoughts of my mother and my grandmother. They were both quilters and no scrap of cloth was wasted through their hands and by their eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I hope that you are aware of your talent. Now I must get over the recollections.

  • June 26, 2011 at 5:12 am
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    I have had two thoughts on buttons and the many collections that I have seen and acquired over the years. The first thought is the very use or purpose of a button–basically to hold cloth together. Sometimes buttons or used for decorations but I suspect that the original use was as a fastener. What are we fastening together in our lives? In our days of constant rush and overload, I find myself needing to mend or hold things together. I laughed when my husband bought the “Buttoneer” several years ago, but I am embarassed to admit how many times we have pulled that gadget out to attach those buttons because we simply had NO time to properly “sew” the much needed fastener. I guess we should examine how many things we fasten in our lives and examine what kind of workmanship we have put in place as we have depended on these buttons to hold our life clothes, things, and situations together…

    As I have recently gone thru an elderly family member’s belongings, I found several glass containers of buttons. These decorative containers housed hundreds of buttons which were grouped by colors. As I carefully examined one particular jar full of various shades of blue, I wondered how many years that these particular buttons had been stored. How many generations did they represent? How many different garments had they held together? I chuckled as I wondered what the buttons would say to me if they could share their stories of purpose and then their stories of being misplaced, lost, or collected. I have seen many people repurpose buttons for decoration. I, personally, have at least 5 stuffed animals and ragdolls that were made with buttons representing the eyes. Buttons can suggest a certain time period or style. Just like their varied sizes and colors, buttons in their design can be single-holed, double-holed, or four-holed! With such variations, one’s imagination and creativity can utilize buttons to decorate anything. One day soon, I plan to remove the cut glass lid on one of those decorative jars and listen to the secrets and stories they share about their unique histories!..

    • June 26, 2011 at 5:41 am
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      What a beautiful story Maggie. Are you a writer? I can see a short story (or even a novel) called “The Button”. Brilliant repurposing!

      • June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am
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        Two GREAT thoughts, Maggie … and THANK YOU for taking the time to share them. 🙂

        Your words: “I guess we should examine how many things we fasten in our lives and examine what kind of workmanship we have put in place as we have depended on these buttons to hold things together …” provide a very powerful metaphor, my dear. And introduces the kind of thought process I encourage in my clutter clearing workshops … as odd as that might sound.

        When we take the time to listen to and understand the stories in the objects around us we can make better decisions as to whether it serves us to keep them … or better serve another to pass them on. Thus another distinction between gleaning and hoarding … LISTENING 🙂

  • June 26, 2011 at 6:54 am
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    Wow, thanks for sharing ~ all of you! I just experienced a new appreciation for the jars of nails that my grandfather saved ~ all sorted by sizes and types. I still use some of them! (although some are just to keep for the memories!)

    • June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am
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      Ahhhh …. buttons and nails. Maybe in the top ten of the Gleaners’ Survival Manual? Great to see you here, Laurie! xo

  • June 26, 2011 at 7:14 am
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    I’m a gleaner in reverse. When I lived exclusively on the left side of my brain for a few decades, I perceived everything as junk – no purpose. I was not capable as seeing anything not used for left brained purposes as useful, so I threw it all away!

    Years later I now am lamenting that I no longer have my electric blue record player, my Wacky Packs, my old indian suede vest and so on…

    So, GO ON with your bad self and keep on gleaning!

    • June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm
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      MESSY ROOM MUSE ALERT!!! Scour the globe for Juliette’s electric blue record player, her Wacky Packs, and her old indian suede vest! If you find them, let us know. 🙂

      Love what you had to share, J. I can certainly identify with the left-brain releases. With ALL the moves that Ray and I have made, there are things that I think “Why did we let that go?”

      I DO, however, still have my very first pair of blue jeans. (double-button fly, hip-huggers) For a Catholic school girl who wore a uniform much of the time those jeans represented independence AND and creativity. When they got so THREADBARE that my B#@&!T was ready to fall out, I patched the rear end with a big chessboard applique that I cut away from some curtain fabric. I even cut chess pieces and stitched them down the leg. (Those were the Bobby Fisher World Chess Champion days.)

      What are Wacky Packs, by the way? So, now I’ve really aged myself … 🙂

    • June 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm
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      I’ll trade you a Ratz Cracker for a Cracked Animal.

  • June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am
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    I consider gleaning – whether reusing a button, a canvas, or gathering food destined for the dustbin – to be a way of finding new purpose in the disposable. My favorite hobby is to find old, torn, unfashionable sweaters and use them to make catnip mice for me and my friends’ cats and unique stuffed monsters. I get a sense of satisfaction finding a new purpose for them and it helps me realize that there is nothing in life (or people) that isn’t of value.

    • June 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm
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      I know what I am going to do with my next threadbare sweater, Jill. What a PURRfectly great idea … and with four kitties, need I say more?

      I also love “I get a sense of satisfaction finding a new purpose for them and it helps me realize that there is nothing in life (or people) that isn’t of value.” A profound practice in mindfulness. 🙂

  • June 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm
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    Bernadette, thank you for your insight; it is always a pleasure for me to read your words written in love and forever pointing the way to a better place. I think that the main difference between gleaning and hoarding is the amount of things you accumulate. That which is gleaned can never be piled up to make paths through your home or shop. On the other hand hoarding can only lead to this dilemma. I tend to glean pieces of tile and glass in hopes of creating a mosaic or panes of glass and beads for wind chimes. But I also tend to glean things that are not visible to the eye but are kept to remind the heart and stimulate the mind. Words from a song, a haunting melody of music, words written by an old friend, memories of warm fires on cold winter nights. If I could hoard these things, I probably would. Thanks again, Bernadette.

  • June 30, 2011 at 9:04 pm
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    My grandfather (who had passed on before I was born) was an Austrian Gold Medal winner for design (clothing). My grandmother, who lived with us, had learned as a child to do needlework of all kinds and after she married him earned to sew/tailor beautifully. Her specialty was “glamor” clothes. There was never a button, zipper, thread, piece of fabric, etc…discarded.

    Everyone was “outfitted” from the white rat – Cleo, to the Great Dane – (if the Iguana would’ve stayed still long enough I’m sure she would’ve dressed him up, too). We were clowns, queens, princesses, Caesar, Cleopatra & Egyptians, soldiers, cowboys, astronauts… and then there were the costumes.

    As my mother cleaned out things, a lot of it made its way to our house. In with those things we found tons of buttons. Some might say she hoarded because every space she had in her closet drawers and under the bed were filled with these things. But, I spent many an afternoon with her perusing through magazines getting ideas… searching through patterns to find ones to use or that she could adapt…and, I know with every button there was a vision of what it would adorn or be functional for. This “art” also applied to trims of all kinds, including fur, feathers, sequins, beads, etc…

    Only a fraction of what she gathered was actually used. Some of the buttons & trim went to friends. A lot were donated. Quite a few were sold on eBay. I know that wherever she is, she got a good laugh when a button that said 15 cents on the card sold for $27.00.

    The only thing I kept was a beautiful lace collar that is the simplest piece – but, at the same time, most intricate handmade creation of lace that I’ve seen. That was incorporated into a “memory bag” along with her sterling thimble…a couple of postcards from my great-grandmother & she crossing the Atlantic on vacations, a sterling bracelet that my mother used as a teething ring, my teething ring, a couple of antique hat pins & my daughter’s 1st locket.

    I don’t believe in hoarding – just amassing stuff for the sake of having more stuff – or out of fear of lack. But, I don’t believe in just discarding things…throwing them out. My generation and those that have followed have grown up in a disposable society – one which where before you’ve learned to use A, B is already on the market…it’s newer…it’s better…it’s what’s in. Somewhere along the way I think we’ve started looking at relationships the same way. Not just with our friends, spouses, etc… I’ve seen people move and leave pets behind. I’ve seen (& spent many years volunteering with) older people – somebody’s parents and grandparents – put in homes, basically left on their own with visits a couple times a year, if it fit into the younger generations schedules.

    Gleanings are wonderful. Those are the pieces and parts that separately – or in their present form – although only part of the whole picture have value. I see our gleanings as metaphors for us. All part of the big picture…all part of One – yet, each of us valuable individually. And, we are gleaners for each other. We take those pieces of others that resonate with us…that we know we can together create something with and build on those things. We see the sparkle, the shiny, letting go of those parts that don’t serve us while we keep the rest and focus on what’s beautiful… and what’s usable… reusing, recycling… repurposing… both things & people.

  • February 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm
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    Yes, you are right, nothing would be thrown away back then. Even the fabric would have turned into something even if it were like a doll dress. I loved this post!

    • March 3, 2012 at 12:47 am
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      🙂 Yes! Just recently used an old lace blouse for a book cover! Pictures to come!

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