Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hit with the Hungry Stick

If you've ever lived with someone who went hungry in the Great Depression, as I do, then you know that they are, to put it mildly, hoarders. A few year's ago, my Mom insisted that we needed a freezer. John and I argued that buying and running a freezer for a family of three, who rarely ate regular meals together, was simply not practical. But Mom laid out all the reasons why a freezer made sense. She could buy items when they were on sale and save them for later. In the event we were snowed in by a blizzard, we'd have ready access to meat, vegetables and fruits of all kinds. When she made things like big pots of chili or chicken and noodles, we could freeze the leftovers and eat off them again, thus saving money and the world's resources.

In the end, Mom won, of course. When she gets that determined look in her eye, there is no stopping her. So she went out and bought a freezer and it takes up one end of the back porch. She definitely does the things she said she would do: she buys items on sale and put them in the freezer; she freezes all kinds of leftovers; (we haven't been snowed in yet, living only a few blocks from the nearest grocery store, so we haven't been able to test that theory).

The problem with our freezer is that once something gets put into it, it never comes out again. We have on-sale chickens Mom bought in 2001 and on-sale beef roast she bought in 2002 and on-sale pork chops she bought in 2003. We have sacks and sacks of strawberries and cauliflower and peas years past their "best if sold by" date. We have boxes of freezer-burned french fries and packages of age-shrunken steak. We have sandy ice cream and chocolate eclairs so old, the filling has disappeared, leaving behind only a tough shell of ice-covered pastry. We have freezer sacks and plastic containers of ham and beans and beef stroganoff and vegetable soup very carefully labelled as to the day they were put in the freezer three years ago.

You see, the thing with Mom is that she buys her groceries day by day. As long as I've known her, she's never planned meals in advance. My father would never eat left-overs and we rarely eat left-overs either, at least, once they've been consigned to the freezer. Mom's favorite question is: "what are we going to have for dinner tonight?" We discuss it and if we decide on meat loaf, for instance, she will go to the store and buy the makings for meat loaf, although there are 47 packages of hamburger in the freezer.

In fact, the freezer is just a depression-induced security blanket. Not something she actually plans on using but something she could turn to in case of dire emergency. As long as the feezer is there, neither Mother Nature nor political policies could cause her family to be without food. Back when Mom and her brothers and sisters had nothing to eat, they would have not let a little thing like a "sell-by" date or a patch of freezer burn stop them from enjoying the bounties of my freezer.

Mom is currently in Illinois visiting her sisters and I've taken advantage of her absence to clean out the freezer. I've filled four big plastic trash bags to dispose of in one way or another (much of it will go to feed Louise's dogs who will dine tonight on t-bone steak and hash browns and Texas toast and apple turnovers - better food than many families in this town will probably have). It makes me sad to see so much go to waste but I know better than to think I can change Mom's deep-seated insecurity with its need to have a hoard of provisions available.

This is also why we had to put additional shelves upon the back porch to hold enough canned goods to stock a homeless shelter for a month, nine boxes of cereal, 12 packages of pasta of various makes and models (including angel hair, rigatoni, mostaciolli, regular spaghetti, regular macaroni, shell macaroni, lasagna noodles). extra cans of canned milk and sacks of flour and sugar and brown sugar and powdered sugar and bottles of syrup......

And so when she returns, it will start again. She will buy pork chops on sale and put them in the freezer, only to go out and buy fresh pork chops for dinner next week - until the freezer is full to bursting again....because she just can't help it. She was hit with the Hungry Stick when she was young and she's never gotten over it.