Three generations of plastic-bag ladies

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My mother is a bag lady and proud of it. In her kitchen pantry are all the plastic bags that she's hoarded from her past 400 or so shopping trips.

"Those are too good to throw away," declares this super thrifter.

Mom stuffs some of the bags into a homemade cloth doll that was designed by another thrifty soul specifically to hold bags and look calico-cute in the process. The doll's drawstring skirt bulges with bags. She looks as if she's expecting squads. Mom stores other bags in cabinet drawers in the kitchen and garage. Her next stop, I suppose, will be to rent a mini storage unit.

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It dawned on me the other day that, like my mother, I've become a bag lady, too. A sliver of kitchen cabinet between a never-used trash compactor and a normal-sized cabinet is my bag closet. It holds enough plastic and brown paper bags to braid into a rug to stretch from here to the neighbor's dining room table. Every time I open the sliver, a couple of slick Wal-Marts seep out, followed by a couple more until I kick them all back in and slam the door.

"You better throw some of those away before we have a skating rink in the kitchen," my spouse said.

"Those are too good to throw away," I said. The words tumbled out before I could catch them and stuff them back in.

See a pattern here?

It's inescapable. My daughter now is a third-generation bag lady, but with a touch of class. I understand the need for each generation to upgrade. Daughter Abby keeps and carries only ritzy bags like Gap or Famous.

Once when she needed to haul a school project, I rustled in my stash and plucked out a neon-yellow Food 4 Less from the local load-it-yourself-and-save-a-load grocery.

Abby sighed. "Mom, I'd prefer one that says Food 4 More."

Especially valued are the roomy name-brand shopping bags with stout handles that are imported by relatives or friends who visit somewhere exotic like St. Louis. My sister once loaded some leftover lasagna for me into a handsome Saks sack. I immediately yanked out the lasagna and carried it in my bare arms against my white T-shirt. No sense risking a greasy stain on such a quality sack. I knew that Abby could use it for luggage.

Mom has found 101 ways to reuse her plastic sacks, but it doesn't make a dent in her inventory. Plastic bags multiply faster than fruit flies on squishy black bananas.

Mom reuses the sacks as mini trash-can bags, flowerpot liners, meal totes, and for hauling newspapers and pop cans to the recycler. The other day she drove up in a downpour wearing a Dillon's supermarket bag on her head.

"I couldn't find my rain bonnet," she explained. She'd forgotten to remove the grocery receipt, which clung to the back of her neck. I peeled it off and handed it to her.

"Boy, that four cans of Del Monte corn for a dollar was a good buy," she said.

For her return trip, I insisted that Mom select a dry hat from my bag closet. After all, I have plenty.

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