I am rearranging the seven jars of spaghetti sauce, trying to find space for them in my little bitty pantry. I picked them up, a dollar apiece, when my favorite grocery was gearing up for the virus. While I was at it, I picked up dried pasta, lots of different sizes and shapes for, you know, variety.
Here’s the thing. I never eat spaghetti. So now I shuffle the jars like clunky playing cards, stacking them, sorting them. Sometimes I set them up like a chessboard with the three jars of peanut butter I also picked up on that shopping spree.
At least I will eat that.
My grandmother told the story of going into town one fine Saturday morning, only to discover that every penny she and my grandfather had in the Whitesville bank was gone. My father was a newborn. It changed her profoundly. Many years later, as I was reveling in my first babysitting money, she told me this.
If she only had a quarter, she saved a nickel of it. She had a savings account, of course. But she also had money hidden in the hem of the drapes, in the backs of drawers, and when she died, we found hundreds of dollars under the tissues of a half-empty box of Kleenex.
We knew never to throw anything out unless we went through it first, looking in pockets and behind photos in frames. She changed her hiding places often, and she always told us where to find them, even when we were in high school. I remember once, she pulled back the runner on a small table in her bedroom to reveal five hundred dollars scattered underneath it.
“if you are even in trouble and need it,” she said. “You just come get it.”
This carried over to her pantry, too. As children, my brother and I played grocery for hours in her basement. Using a baby buggy for a grocery cart, we took turns shopping and checking each other out at our make-shift till. She had enough canned goods to last a winter, two, three.
As she aged, and as her eyesight did, too, we took to checking her pantry when we visited, or when we gathered her mail when she was away. We tossed the old and swollen cans, but always when she wasn’t looking, because there would be a fight. We did the same in the refrigerator, with those little dribs and drabs of unrecognizable foodstuffs. We tossed them wholesale, Tupperware and all, then offered to take out her trash right then, so she wouldn’t know.
I wonder how this crisis, so pervasive and disruptive, will change us going forward. For a few years now, I have asked myself, wistfully and not all that seriously, if it might not be good for the grid to go down, just parts of it, to kill on the spot all that vitriolic and inane social media, a dramatic event to return us to ourselves. Interesting, then, that social media and electronic communication have ramped up and is saving us in a way, during all this.
I had thought, erroneously, that social media in and of itself, was the problem. The problem, of course, was us. Distracted by too many party invitations, too much expectation to live it up, photographing and posting every aspect of our high life all along the way. We have been made anxious by the fear of missing out, and the glossy shallow preening of influencers. A whole generation is discovering the serenity of nothing much to do.
We are zooming with family and friends, Googling recipes for banana bread and sourdough starter. We are fierce about feeding our loved ones and ourselves. We will gain some weight, but it will be fluffy, and we will get back to normal once they open the parks and hiking trails, once we lose the weight of worry.
I suspect our larders will be stocked and stay that way, for the rest of our lives. We will take our new cooking and baking skills and glow with some pioneer pride. This is one thing we have been missing. The sense that we can take care of ourselves. Our grandchildren will visit on a day far distant, toss out our weevily pasta, our moldy cheese. They will find us quaint, eccentric. We will try, but fail, to teach them what we have learned. But we will have laid the groundwork for them to learn lessons of their own.