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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Waste not, hoard, yes
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Friday, November 9, 2012


Many of us grew up around people who had lived through the Great Depression.

And one thing they all had in common was a disdain for wasting anything.

Throwing away a piece of cardboard was difficult to do.

"You might need that some day," was what I heard countless times.

That's probably why my mother, who was a youngster during the 1930s, was a bit of hoarder. Our house, which was very small, had almost every nook and cranny crammed full of something, from jars to old keys to empty pill bottles.

"That'll come in handy some day," she would say.

But she was most passionate about not wasting food.

Even the smallest scrap of food, like a spoonful of leftover beans, would be put in the refrigerator. And God forbid any of us tried to scrape leftovers off our plates. No, you did not waste food. Period. End of story.

Besides, she would always say, just think of all the poor, starving children in the world who would love to have what you want to throw away.

For the most part, that was fine with me when I was growing up. I ate like every meal was my last (still do) and I enjoyed raiding the fridge and gobbling down whatever leftovers I could find.

But after I grew up and left, her refrigerator, alas, became a museum of ancient leftovers. Morsels of food could be found wrapped up in wax paper or in a bowl or small dish, stuffed away and long forgotten. The food was no longer identifiable, curious relics of meals unfinished.

In order to place anything else in the fridge, or even to find something like a tub of butter, I would have to clean it out on my visits.

The freezer, which was at the top, was also stuffed full of orphan food that had long fell victim to freezer burn.

In fact, I had learned to use caution opening the freezer door, as it was stuffed so full that something very hard and old would invariably tumble out.

There was, of course, no need to discuss it with her. I knew she would never change. Not being wasteful gave her a sense of well-being, of accomplishment, of doing the right thing.

Never mind that much of it would finally and mercifully be laid to rest in the trash can on my visits.

She had at least tried.

I thought for many years that my mother was probably the most extreme food hoarder I had ever known. Then I met my former grandmother-in-law.

She is dead and gone now, but in the middle of the night, I am still haunted by the memory of opening her refrigerator door for the first time.

No words can describe the utter horror of the molded food, year-old milk containers and other decrepit culinary monstrosities that I feared had somehow unified and formed a new life form that would jump out and eat me on the spot.

She was an adult during the Great Depression, even had a child during that time, and nothing, and I mean nothing, was considered disposable.

We took her to an all-you-can-eat restaurant one night, a meal etched in my mind forever. I noticed she was wrapping food from her plate in a napkin and placing it in her handbag.

"Uh, you really are not supposed to do that," I told her, explaining that the restaurant could not make money if customers carried out food at will.

She very reluctantly took the food from her purse and placed it back on her plate. The next thing I knew, she arose from her chair, took her plate back to the buffet and commenced placing the food she couldn't eat back in the trays.

Springing from my chair, I ran to the buffet, took her by the arm and gently escorted her back to our table, hoping that no one had seen what she had done. Try as I might, I simply could not convince her that taking uneaten food back to the buffet was not acceptable.

"I just can't see it go to waste," she said, pitiful and almost tearful.

I went back to the buffet, got a plate and tried to retrieve from the trays what she had just returned. Although I was as full as a tick, I ate everything as she watched.

She was happy.

I was bloated and ill.

But, you know what, I really did understand.

My mother raised me right, and I am sure some day one of my children will be cleaning out my fridge on their visits.

All I ask is, please don't take me to a buffet.

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