It houses food, yes. But so much more, should you ever need it.
We were sitting around the dinner table scraping the last bites from our plates when I remembered to tell my husband “Mom said to call her this weekend if you need anything.”
“I need anything!” my son Charlie proclaimed.
“What is it that you need my dear,” I asked, side-eying him as I folded my napkin and crossed my arms.
“Pop-tarts and root beer,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I can only get that at Gigi’s house.”
The thing about my mother, Gigi, and her pantry is simple. It has things mine does not. Exotic things like pop-tarts and root beer.
The next time I was at her house, I went to the pantry in search of a snack. As I neared the door, the small room lit up (thanks to the motion-sensor light my father installed), inviting me inside.
I stood in a space no larger than a common doormat, facing floor-to-ceiling shelves of bounty.
I saw the normal things I’d expect to see like raisins and bags of tea and fiber cereal. And the chocolate fudge pop-tarts that bought my son’s love. But as I stood there, letting my eyes adjust to the organized clutter and rainbow of colored boxes, packages, and cans, the pantry became a life-sized I Spy book.
There was a blue glass jar full of dice. I can only guess that this is for the spontaneous game of Bunco that strikes my mom’s fancy as she reaches for the oatmeal. Next to the dice was a bag of oyster crackers, that top-shelf variety of expensive cracker she reserves only to float in soup.
Tucked into a wicker basket, there were rainbow-colored marshmallows shaped like bunny rabbits, from last Easter. I tasted one, feeling brave, and they were indeed stale. In a tin bucket on the bottom shelf, there was a first-aid kit for when I need a band-aid or itch cream for my mosquito bites.
Stacked next to a dusty crock pot I found paper plates in various themes, ready and waiting for this year’s holidays, barbecues, and birthdays. There was even a package of oversize plates in the shape of a Turkey, complete with matching napkins.
After Thanksgiving, she was prepared to celebrate America’s independence with a Folger’s coffee that held a sprig of small red, white, and blue flags perfectly sized to fit in a child’s fist and ready for the next patriotic parade.
The olive oil was sandwiched between the pickles and a shaker of lemon pepper and there was a can of tuna on top of an antique Bishop’s wafer tin because her maiden name was Bishop.
A bag of shell noodles peeked out from inside a box with other pasta and a bag of brown sugar hung out with the microwave hot chocolate packets. There was a bear-shaped jar of honey standing on top of the peanut butter and ranch salad dressing lined up next to the maple syrup.
Then I saw, with seemingly no respect for the warning “refrigerate after opening,” the classic yellow mustard was right there on the shelf, neighboring the instant coffee.
There’s really no rhyme or reason to it.
I spied the cat treats way up high, moved there after that Saturday when the cat got curious (as they often do) and ventured inside only to be trapped when my father pulled the door closed without seeing him. Sometime later, with a few loud meows and a swipe of his paw under the door, he was able to alert my mother of his plight and gain freedom.
Behind the plastic bottle of vanilla extract from Mexico, I glimpsed two jars of bouillon cubes — beef and chicken, that staple of any good housewife that will magically turn boiling water into soup — and a carton of something called Coconut Dream.
Gasp! Wonder of wonders — I opened a box marked peppermint sticks and found $60. That’s my mother’s secret stash for special occasions, hidden right under my father’s nose. I closed the lid leaving two twenties.
Behind the false peppermint sticks, I saw a row of cookbooks that I know she never uses. When I was a kid, she declared that she hated to cook and her 1970s-era degree in Home Economics had been a waste. There was a cherub figurine next to a bottle of sangria and a bag of butterscotch candies resting with the olives.
My finger tilted a small, faded green box forward so I could read the label — pistachio-flavored jello. Yikes.
Popcorn was friends with the biscuit mix and a jar of minced garlic sat with the margarita salt. There were soup and beans and drinking straws and a Gingerbread house kit from some Christmas at some point.
Hopefully misplaced, there was a spray bottle of air freshener cozied up to the Worcestershire sauce. I pushed those two apart, lest the chemical air freshener taint the Worcestershire somehow.
I saw a model plane kit and a tube of anchovy paste. Pumpkin bread with pineapple cream cheese spread, a combination only grandmother’s might make.
An empty plastic jug and a ball of twine.
A squat, fat jar with dominoes inside.
Clearly, my son Charlie had been right. If I needed anything, I could bet on finding it in my mother’s pantry.
I turned around, closed the door, and decided to visit the cookie jar instead. I lifted the glass lid and found it contained, perhaps surprisingly, only cookies.