We used to call it the “food museum.”
It was a tall, oak cabinet that felt like it stood just as tall as the tree it was cut from. Towering over the kitchen with grandeur, even though it’s use was rare at best. Standing alone in the corner, waiting to be called upon.
My grandparents were a unique bunch, at least they were to me. However in retrospect, they probably weren’t much different than anyone of similar age. They probably were all the same, just as I am with most people shutting the door on their twenties. They were probably just the same as their friends, their colleagues, any everyone else they knew. But to me, they were different – and I truly didn’t understand.
Until I did.
No matter the time of year, no matter the time of day, the cabinet was always full – the food museum.
There were bags of flower and spices, mustard, cans of food, utensils, and anything else you could think of. It had a smell of brown sugar that I can still feel in my nose to this day. So much so that any time I bake, I am taken back to that cabinet in a quiet home in rural Ohio. It made me laugh and smile whenever I went through it, though that wasn’t a common task.
I was never sure of why it was there, or why my grandparents kept random items for so long – it just didn’t make sense to me. Why would anyone keep a box of rice for so long? What was the point? Afterall, most of the dates printed on the old cardboard were almost older than me, sometimes they actually were. But I just accepted it, I let it be what it was, and I never really questioned it. Just a quirk of the family, and something we all just let happen. Like a quiet addition to the family.
It wasn’t until years later, when my mom was talking to me about her parents, that I finally understood why it was there – and why it was more important that I’d ever realized. More important than just an old oak cabinet protecting years-old grain.
When you’re a kid, anyone who is older than you seems ancient – cruel, but true. They seem like they have been around forever, seventy years seeming like an eternity to a child – and in reality, it is. But a child doesn’t really realize what those years mean, what was going on during them, and how it affected the very people we think have been around forever. From recession, depression, good times and bad. Our grandparents saw more than we could realize, and part of that memory was sitting right in that kitchen, in that cabinet.
My grandparents grew up in the depression. They had no money, they barely got by, and in such – they barely had any food. Not like today where supermarkets are always packed, restaurants are plenty, and food can be driven right up to your door. Food wasn’t a luxury, it was something you truly treasured. And for my grandparents, that feeling and attitude never went away. They never felt like they could let go of their stash, worrying of the next time the bottom will fall out.
I didn’t realize it until years later, but that cabinet was more than a stash of food – it was a memory. A memory of times when food was scarce, money as well. When they weren’t sure how they were going to make it through the week – it was a lifeline, not a cabinet.
Sure, the years went on, the country improved, the world progressed and life became easier. My grandparents didn’t have to worry about their next meal. They didn’t have to worry about how they were going to get enough money to purchase a loaf of bread to split for the week – they had finally escaped poverty’s clutches. However, the legacy remained – embedding itself deep inside the psyche of my grandparents like a carpenter ant burrowing into a deck. The constant buzz of worry forever present.
What surprised me more as I look back is the fact that, never once, did my grandparents explain to me why it was there, what purpose it had, or why there was food in there so old that the company had already redesigned their logo twice. Maybe they didn’t want me to know. Maybe they were happy that time had passed, that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore, and they were protecting me from something they never wanted to experience, while also not being able to shake it themselves.
But, ironically, today I find myself doing the same thing – I find myself storing my own supplies for a rainy day…or year. Something I never saw myself doing, and I am not alone.
There is an old saying that “history repeats itself,” and it is no more real and present than today. I remember the days earlier this year of waiting in long lines at stores for a pound of beef – wondering if I was going to see barren shelves and angry people, or maybe just nothing at all.
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, I saw my own oak cabinet being built – the anxiety of yesterday returning, and the outcome becoming the same.
I don’t want the world to be one of worry, hoarding, and thinking about our next move constantly. I don’t want to have to explain to my own grandchildren about why I have decades old spices in a closet that reeks of anxiety. I want a world devoid of cabinets and all that they carry.
That oak cabinet is gone, but the memory remains. Hopefully it never has to make a return.