It was like coming across something significant on an archeological dig, that’s how this morning’s discovery felt. I was cleaning out the food cupboard where all the baking needs and oils and such are stored. So many packages have passed the expiration date because I rarely cook complicated meals for myself here alone. I make quick things – frozen low-carb pizzas, a week’s worth of taco salad, maybe a meatloaf now and then. And I dine out a lot, either with friends at happy hour or at my local diner where everybody knows my name.
That means the items in this cupboard are things I bought within the past couple of years, but barely used. At least that’s true of the two cupboards I can reach.
Today, I made the woeful decision to clean out whatever is moldering up in the top cupboard, the one I haven’t touched in years. I figured there was probably some almond flour I bought in 2020, or some old mostly full salt canister I bought a couple years ago to fill the shaker with, because I almost never use salt. I thought I’d clean out the old stock and put some small bins on that shelf, with things I use only every couple of months, but in containers that I can reach in the front, so I don’t need a ladder to find the odds and ends I can’t see in the back.
I got out my trusty 2-foot long tongs that I’ve always used to reach things. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I’ve come up with lots of helpful aids since there’s no longer a tall man around the house. I did some great stretching routines up on my tippy toes and pulled down the contents of the shelf one by one. Some of the items were obvious historical relics, but I got my reading glasses and searched each package for the fine print expiration date, just in case. Just as I suspected, everything was old, but I hadn’t expected it all to be THAT old. A package of Lipton onion mix from June 2016? A jar of chicken bouillon cubes from October 2012? A chicken seasoning packet from August 2014?? The list goes on. I started pulling out more and dumping powders down the sink, tossing the containers into the garbage can.
And then it hit me… Rick died in 2017, so these were all things he bought. I hadn’t inspected that shelf since he (so easily) reached up and stored these foodstuffs there. Yes, a 6’5” man like Rick was even able to SEE what’s on the shelf at nearly eye level. So these were all things he bought for recipes he liked to make. He shopped for these items long, long ago.
And I instantly was saddened by how long he’s been gone, and by the fact that there are so few items left in this house that he touched and used. Five plus years has changed so much. I’ve made the place mine now, as much as it sometimes hurts. I have a new bedroom set, new living room furniture, even tools that are more lightweight than his big gas-powered ones. The kitchen is customized for my use, when it used to be his domain. It was a slow process. In fact, it was only last year when I gave away his prized Calphalon pans to a man I was seeing at the time. (That was a double punch to the gut – watching his pans going out of the house to another man!) But they’ve always been too heavy for me, and I like my smaller, lighter ceramic fry pan and my Revere Ware pot. So off they went.
So these worthless expired groceries were more than just that. These items were about the last of the things Rick touched and used in this kitchen, and that no one has laid hands on since. Of course, I have a few of his possessions in his old office, the ones that are so “Rick” that I can’t think of parting with them, even now. But something about knowing he was the last person to touch these grocery items added to my sorrow. They’ve been in the cupboard since he placed them there. He bought them for dinners he lovingly cooked for me. It’s like they are a part of history. The history of us. The life we shared together so long ago.
Is this just a widow thing? Would other women feel this sudden sadness in the midst of a mindless chore? Or maybe it’s just something I’ve always done, place so much emotion and meaning onto “things.” I’m the family historian, after all. I have several feet of shelves overflowing with photos of past generations on a wall in my office. I love seeing my grandma’s blue bowl on my coffee table and my mom’s lazy Susan in the middle of my kitchen island. So I’ve always ascribed meaning to items from the past. (No, I’m not a hoarder, but close.) But I think I’ve gone beyond being sentimental when I cried over the jar of chicken bouillon and the tin of dried garlic potato buds today.
Life moves on, and I keep moving forward, but sometimes these reminders give me pause and I need to take a little time to think about what I’ve lost. So once again today I mourned the man who stocked up on these cooking items and that he’s no longer here to make our meal and join me at the dinner table. It was another reminder of something I’ve gotten used to in five years: how solitary and quiet the house is with no more banging of those big Calphalon pans or the sounds of him singing to himself as he cooked with them.
But time really does heal all wounds. Just as the archaeologist need not fear being hurt by the remnants of those long-gone dinosaurs, now that Rick has been gone so long, I don’t fear these memory triggers any more. In fact, I welcome them now. They still remind me of what I’ve lost and make me shed a few tears, but today, they also triggered the beautiful memories of watching him in his element in the kitchen, cooking up those delicious lasagnas or making stuffed mushroom appetizers for those lovely dinners we shared. They brought back those evenings we spent drinking wine and dipping chunks of baguette in olive oil, while we waited for the food to cook, chatting about life and philosophy, books and ideas, hopes and dreams. They bring back vivid scenes of long ago, a different era, in memories so vivid that I almost welcome these little reminders of the past more than I fear them now, and the tears of loss are soon replaced by a smile because I know I’m so fortunate to have experienced the time we had.