Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Abundant Pantry

I live in a tiny Victorian, built in the 1870's. It's a sweet little house and I loved it as soon as I saw it. Actually, the proper term is a poor man's Victorian, meaning it has some of the features of those lavish older homes with elaborate scrolled woodwork and porches and brightly painted.

My home is not elaborate at all. There is a front porch, four rooms, a bathroom, a room where I work on my computer, and a pantry. The pantry is larger than my computer room. The pantry is larger than my back deck. I love my pantry. I store all my staples out there, as well as pots and pans and appliances that are too large or too plentiful to fit inside the cabinets of my eat-in kitchen.

Earl, my Ole Sweetie-Pi, was in the pantry, looking for a can of tomato soup. I keep them more or less neatly stacked on one particular shelf, with like flavors stacked together so that I can tell at a glance what I have on hand. "Do you know you're almost out of tomato soup?" he yells to me as I stand at the island, stirring up a batch of cookies.

"No, I'll put it on the grocery list."

"Do you know you have two jars of mayonnaise out here?"

"Yes," I said, continuing to stir.

"We have a case of stewed tomatoes and a case of diced tomatoes. Look at all the different flours you have, and 20 pounds of sugar! Are we expecting a shortage?"

"It could happen," I said, stopping to sample the batter.

"Why do you need four different kinds of fruit juice?" he pressed.

"Why do you need 100 model train engines and a storage unit full of freight cars?"

Silence. "All I'm saying is that you have a lot of duplicates out here." He came out of the pantry with two soups, a minestrone and a tomato garden. He likes to combine soups to create his own recipe. "Who are the cookies for?"

"Work. It's nice to have a little treat."

My orange tabby, Buster, came by and rubbed around my legs, which is his way of softening me up for treats from the table, the counter, or wherever food and I might be.

Earl dourly studies him. "You're always making treats for work. Buster's getting fat."

Buster was a throw-away cat that we picked out for free from our local veterinarian's. "Buster was abandoned and probably forced to garbage picked before he came here; he knows what it's like to be thin and hungry. He much prefers being fat and happy." I look into those pleading green eyes, weaken, and give him a gob of cookie dough. It is gobbled in a nanosecond. "I know how he feels."

Earl took a pot down from the pot rack that is over my head and poured his two-ingredient secret recipe into it and lighted the stove.

"Do you know what cornstarch pudding is?" I asked him. He shook his head no. I am not surprised. Our backgrounds are very different. He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, doted upon by a household of women, pampered, indulged. His youth was spent squandering dreams. I am not much better for him, I fear. I indulge him, too; it's part of what I want for myself so I give it to others.

"So what is it?" he says. His back is turned away from he as he twirls the spoon in crazy circles.

"It's an old fashioned pudding, made with cornstarch. Not very flavorful if I recall correctly. I can still remember Mother standing at the wood stove, stirring cornstarch pudding in an old dented aluminum soup pot."

"So it's dessert."

"I think it's intended to be dessert; for us that would be our entire meal. A bowl of it. Three times a day."

He stopped stirring to turn and look at me. "You're kidding. I thought your father worked."

"He worked and then he drank all his money; he earned it and he could spend it however he wanted. He liked to show off to his buddies at the bar just what a great guy he was and spent all his money on them, trying to buy their approval and friendship. Mother would take the loose change from his pants pocket, buy a box of cornstarch and a gallon of milk, and that was what we had to live on." I shook my head at the irony. "He used to be proud, and actually brag, that Mother lived on a dime."

Earl tried to absorb the image and the feelings. "Must have been tough."

"Oh, I don't know. Remember how you told me you didn't know you were rich? Well, I didn't know we were poor. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be hungry all the time. I don't know when I first discovered that people actually ate whole meals. Probably from going to visit my grandmother. She'd go all out with biscuits, chicken fricassee, mashed potatoes, cake, whatever I wanted. And I promised myself that when I grew up, I would not ever be hungry again, and if I had it in my power, I would not let others be hungry either. I always want to have food to share." Buster yowled plaintively at me. I gave him a small gob of cookie dough (I am concerned about overfeeding him). I'll share my food, even if it's just with a fat orange cat.


  1. What a painting your words created....and a story of two worlds...merged and diverged. I love how we are influenced so much by our past...then take it....turn it about. I like your analogy we are often very much the same inside despite the exterior both of you knew no difference...he coming from from another. I have a similar story. I can so relate. You are a dear. I love your little ..okay...chubby orange cat. How sweet that your kindness extends to him....he knows what a good thing he has there!

  2. and the 'word' to sign in was EXTUM ex tummy? strange...does that relate? HA!

  3. I have to laugh at the EXTUM. I just went to the doctor's a couple of days ago. Alas, it seems that the orange Buster isn't the only one who must do something about extra poundage. Very very hard for me as a dormant fear finds a new foothold in my psyche. I can rationalize and talk to myself, I understand the cause, and yet the pain of (imagined) lack and deprivation is a wretched struggle. The imagination is a powerful weapon and a powerful tool, I think. I am working on changing the way that I think. It seems so simple ~ change your perception ~ change your life.

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how our childhood " story" dictates our adult one. So many things make us the people that we are...
    I always LOVED my aunt's big pantry in her farmhouse. I really enjoyed your story...

  5. The "adult" in me recognizes some of my childhood beliefs, and I am fully aware that it is my adult responsibility to "grow up" those (truly) hurtful ideas and fears. I've had them for so long though, they are like an old friend. Who would I be without them.

    I wonder.

  6. Ah, Katy, I could read your stories forever. They are just like the kind of books I like to read where people start with not much and how their lives grow after all that. What a beautiful, positive spirit you have and the gift to put that into words is just, well, ..... a gift. And my word was 'presh'. In the south we call people precious -- so presh you are.

  7. Anj, as my nieces said when they were wee, "you make water leak from my eyes."

    Thank you!