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 Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"

Pickle Intervention

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
It is a sad day when a young adult child is confronted with the realization that her parents are not super-heroes, that they are not members of some omnipotent, omniscient, immortal race of superior beings. The first time that a hapless parent says something the newly adult child knows to be wrong, she might smile tenderly, might give the careworn cheek a gentle kiss, noting the error but not commenting on it. She has seen that her parent is not only human, not only mortal, but in fact is old in the way that grandmas are old. Old and getting older. The first time a father has to hand a jar to his tall and handsome son to open, well, that moment means more to the son than the prospect of some pickled beets. It means that there has been a shift in the balance of power. This moment when age defers to the vigor and strength of youth might fill a young man with awe and a bit of pride. Here Dad, let me get that.

I remember with crystal clarity the moment I realized that my parents had crossed the line from the prime of their adulthood into middle age. Iíd come home from college for Christmas. I was hungry. I opened the fridge where I found four different kinds of mustard, but no bologna. There was jam: apricot, plum, strawberry, blackberry, apple butter, peach, marmalade, but there were no muffins, no biscuits, no bagels. There were four slices of bread. I could eat four slices of bread while I was getting the toaster out and plugged in. Four slices of bread! But there were two bottles of honey, two kinds of barbeque sauce, a bottle of bouillon, A-1 Sauce, catsup, horseradish, creamy horseradish and horseradish with beet juice. There was Real Lemon and Real Lime and Grenadine, but no milk. Sour pickles, dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles. My parentsí refrigerator was cram packed with condiments, condiments, condiments, nothing but condiments. And then I knew. They were old.

I had suspected they were old. Once my sister was walking ahead of the rest of the family, pretending, I am sure, that we were a band of winos following her hoping for a handout, or that we were Hari Krishna devotees who didnít mean a thing in the world to her, or maybe a troop of orangutans or anything but relatives of herís. My mother called out to her, "Mary." Mary trudged on. Brave, you know, and defiant. "Mary," my mother called a little louder. "She probably canít hear you," opined my father, "because of all the eye make-up she is wearing." That struck me as kind of an old guy thing to say. Caused me to wonder a little. But it wasnít until I came home and found that refrigerator brimming absolutely full, with nothing in it but briny things, pickled things, sauces and jams, that I realized. The fun was over. Mom and Dad were old.

You can guess what is coming, probably, when I tell you that I cleaned out my fridge the other day. We can be thrifty here in kind of a weird way. We might indulge in any number of luxuries nowadays Ė name brand peanut butter, fig preserves, Swiss cheese Ė extravagances that we would never have allowed ourselves when we had a houseful of children who all needed three or four pairs of shoes a year and trips to the dentist and doctor and all of that. In those days generic peanut butter was just fine with us. The truth is, that it is still just fine with us. I lied about the name brand peanut butter. For the sake of the story. But while we might waste some money here or there now that we are virtually child-free, we are loathe to waste one single teaspoon of gummy dried up anything in the bottom of a jar. So, I figured it was high time I sorted through all of that mess, dumped the dibby dabs of leftovers from last week, made a clean sweep.

I dumped jar after jar after jar. I consolidated three different jars of dill pickles, each with just a few pickles in it, into one jar. Jar after jar after can after bottle went into the recycle bin. And when I was done I stepped back and looked. In my refrigerator I saw four kinds of fancy mustard, but no bologna. Seven kinds of snazzy, delicious jam. And four slices of bread. I wonít go through the list. The end result was that I had a refrigerator full of condiments. I was old. Am old. No, was. Because I have declared a ban on them. It is not time yet. No more pickles or sauces or relishes. I have laid down the law. Nobody is allowed to bring any food item into this house which cannot be bitten off and chewed. Nothing is allowed which you would not want a whole mouthful of. Nothing, and I mean it. I am just not ready.

© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" October 1, 2008 Column
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