I unlocked the front door and thrust my shoulder into the wood to unstick it from the frame. I entered with caution and unease because it wasn’t my house. Although aware that no person would greet me, I remained wary of the memories that would no doubt sneak up on me and exploit my weaknesses.
With a deep breath, I smelled the stale air. The scent of age hung in the warmth, which had been trapped inside by the locked windows and doors. The house, uninhabited for years, possessed a certain kinship that lurked beneath the oldness. I stopped for a moment, my eyes taking in the familiar flowered sofa and loveseat, the filled china hutch, and the painted porcelain birds sitting on the end table, just as they sat on the same table in three different houses during my lifetime.
I exhaled a heavy sigh and shook my head. I had a job to do. Memories and nostalgia would only make the task worse. I walked past the kitchen and took a sharp left to the laundry room and pantry. I scanned the pantry shelves, sizing up my opponent. Formidable, but not impossible, I determined.
One by one, I plucked cans from the shelf, dropping them into black plastic bags. At times, I stopped to check the dates. Green beans, expired January 2010; cooking oil, best purchased by November 2007; and an opened bag of chips with guaranteed freshness until May 17. Of what year, I don’t know. All of it, along with the leaking cans of tomato sauce, went into bags.
I stacked the multiple opened rolls of cling wrap next to each other on a shelf. I did the same for the Reynold’s Wrap, wax paper and assorted sizes of Ziploc baggies. I wondered if the stockpile was intentional, or if Alzheimer’s made each purchase seem necessary. I slid obviously used-but-recycled baggies into the trash. My throat tightened, but I reminded myself: I have a job to do.
Sadness enveloped me, brought on by the disparity between what I saw in front of me and the memories of my grandma’s pantry. As a child, I could always find something sugary and tempting in the cabinets. Shelves were stocked and ready to feed anyone who walked through my grandparents’ front door. She loved food; so much so, that she became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. No one ever left her house hungry, except by choice.
I tied the bulging bags closed and surveyed the sparsely filled shelves. All perishable food, which had perished long before that day, was removed. What remained were stock pots, small appliances, dishes, and memories. I wanted to mourn the emptiness in my heart, carved by all that was gone, but remembered that she stood with Jesus and Grandpa now.
That last thought could have been what kept the tears at bay. Or maybe it was the realization that the spice cabinet was full. After all, I had a job to do.