One lesson in litter lasts lifetime

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I remember the day as though it occurred a few hours ago rather an 41 years ago. My mama made me wait in the car while she ran into the grocery in our little town to pick up some milk and bread.

She had picked me up from school and arrived with the usual soda and peanut butter crackers. (We called them nabs in the Mississippi town I came from).

Our town, Noxapater, was a central street of businesses — a post office, a couple of grocery stores, a bank, bait shop, barbershop and general merchndise store.

Email newsletter signup

Everyone shopped at home, although the nearest city was Louisville, 12 miles away. Mom went there for the “big stuff.”

Anyhow, the day was bright. I ate my nabs and slurped the soda. Then, without thinking, I tossed the cellophane wrapper out the car window onto the street. Not two minutes later, someone tapped my elbow as it rested on the door where the window was rolled down.

It was Mrs. Audrey Webb, a middle school history teacher. She was known for her travels around the world. She also was known for her strict classroom.

She looked me dead in the eye over her bifocals. “I had to do something for you just now,” she said sternly.

“Yes ma’am,” I answered, without a clue of what she meant.

“I’m ashamed of you,” she added. “I thought you were a nicer person than this. Hold out your hand.”

I did. She placed the rolled up wrapper in it.

“Go put it where it belongs,” she commanded.

I did, hanging my head on the short trip to the garbage can outside the grocery and back to the car.

Mrs. Webb never said another word. She never had to. Everytime I think about tossing something away without a receptacle nearby or see someone dump some refuse out of their car windows, I shutter.

I look around Selma and see there aren’t a whole lot of Mrs. Webbs around. If there were, we wouldn’t have half the litter we have on our streets, yards and rights of way.

Tuesday night, the Selma City Council talked a lot about teaching children, who would help their parents remember to keep litter picked up. Every time the subject comes up, I hear Mrs. Webb’s, “I thought you were a nicer person.”

A lot of things make up litter. There’s the throwing stuff out the windows; the cigarette butts tossed on a sidewalk or into the street; the old newspapers left in a driveway; the junk left at the side of a country road or under a bridge.

One of Mayor George Evans’ key campaign promises was to clean up the city of Selma. As much as we think Evans is a good guy, he’s no super hero. He can’t do it alone.

At one point, Councilwoman Susan Keith brought up the idea of recycling. Now, that’s a good idea because it makes us consider what we’re using, how much garbage we’re generating and how we’re disposing of it.

We need to pitch in. If we see litter, we need to stop and pick it up.

And if we see someone littering, maybe a gentle nudge like Mrs. Webbs’ will help someone remember for a lifetime.

It’s all up to us.