I remember going through grandmother’s house one summer in Kansas. It was fun for me, anyway, at age 14. Cupboards full of interesting Depresson era artifacts. It was not, I suspect, fun for my Dad and his siblings.
Before I bring my Dad out and move him back into the house while he waits for his new apartment to be ready, I tackle his kitchen – not for the pots and pans, but for food. I want to get rid of any expired food items before he arrives, knowing that each thing I throw away will elicit an argument. If you were raised during the Depression, you don’t throw anything away – not because you are a hoarder, but because you never know when you will need it.
I toss two giant garbage cans worth of rusted canned food, shriveled frozen items nearly a decade expired, and herbs so old the labels have been eaten by silverfish. I find small dishes of sugar packets from America West airlines, RIP 2005 – pause: worth something? — and drawers of corks, twist-ties, rubber bands, and neatly folded plastic bread wrappers. I also find the wonderful egg-shaped cake pans I asked my father for when my children were young, but that he could never find (because he never opened the cupboard.) Now that my own kids are teens, do we still need these?
Then I find them: two clues. An angel-food cake mix. Stamped with an embossed expiration date: November 15, 1992 – two days before my mother’s birthday, 5 months after she died. And medicine. Cancer medicine from 1992 that says “Do not freeze” in the corner of his freezer. My heart stirs. Everything makes sense. Do not open that cupboard or grief will pour out, like Fibber McGee’s closet. Suddenly I know what I am in for, with him and with me.
Then I take a breath and keep tossing. Everything goes. The garbage truck comes. I hope he will not notice what I have done when I bring him back to live in his house a week later.