When I was not yet ten, Mom put me on a plane to visit Carleen. My sister took one look at me and decided I was never going back, and so I lived with her and her family for the next eight years, until 1966, when I graduated from high school.
Carleen had this thing about never running out of food. Her cupboards were loaded with bags of pasta, rice, and beans. Boxes of Cheerios, Wheaties, Trix, and Kix were lined up next to loaves of Wonder Bread, rolls, and buns. There were Oreos, HoHos, and Snowballs. There were rows stacked three high of Campbell’s, Dole, and StarKist. She kept six cans of fruit cocktail on hand, each row neatly stocked, labels forward, not one out of place. There were bookend boxes of red Jell-O and chocolate pudding and a dozen red tins of Schilling spices. Resting on the top shelf were two large yellow bags of Toll House chocolate chips.
The Amana was the size of a 1957 Cadillac without the fins. Its shelves were stockpiled with lemonade and milk; sausage, bacon and eggs; strawberries and cherries and a watermelon wedged in tight. There were Tupperware containers of tamale pie, chili, and spaghetti, drawers of salami, baloney, and ham. The crispers hid carrots, artichokes, asparagus, and iceberg lettuce. The bottom freezer was crammed with fryers and chops, fish sticks and fries, frozen peas and onion rings. Crammed in between were half-gallons of rocky road and mint-chip ice cream along with boxes of popsicles and fudgesicles. For special occasions there were Swanson chicken pot pies and aluminum covered roast beef or turkey TV dinners. We had our own private supermarket, with enough food to last through another Depression.
Even when I wasn’t hungry, I’d slip in and quietly pull the handle on the refrigerator just to look. Standing in my bare feet in the cool blue light, listening to the smooth hum of the motor, the sight made me swoon. I remembered earlier times when I sat on the curb, my lunch, a Wonder Bread and Bosco sandwich and a package of Kool-Aid, my dinner often the same. It had been a while since I’d sat on that curb, but I was still so hungry. I’d no idea there could be that much food in one place, and that I could eat anything I wanted whenever I wanted, just so as long as I didn’t spoil my dinner.
And I wanted it all. I wanted to sit right there on our yellow linoleum, back against the cupboard, knees bent making a hollow to hold my plate, and eat until I needed to eat no more, until finally, I felt fed. It took me a while to believe Carleen when she said it was okay to eat; that I didn’t need permission. Bless her heart. I loved my sister, but I may have loved that brown Amana even more.
Catherine Sevenau is a local writer, humorist, and storyteller. She is currently working on her history and genealogy, which, along with her third book, Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir, is available as a web series at Sevenau.com. A longtime Realtor and Owner/Broker at CENTURY 21 Wine Country, she can be reached at [email protected]