It sure was dark in there. Unexplored territory is always a little frightening at first. Soon I got used to it and after a while it was fun, in a nostalgic, ‘look-what-I-just-found’, ‘I-remember-this! From-1971!’ kind of way.
Of course, my mother never uses the top shelves in her kitchen cupboards any more. Hasn’t for years. It’s not that she’s too short, which she always has been, it’s just that getting up on a chair to reach down canisters of flour or tins of treacle or to search for an old bacon stock cube that she is sure must be there somewhere is not a good idea after a certain age.
The funny thing is that even though she lives on her own, all her kitchen cupboards are fuller with stuff than they ever were when there were seven children and two adults and a cat living there and visitors on Sunday.
So I got to clean them out. We made a morning of it. Mum and T. sat around the kitchen table drinking cups of tea and William crawled around the floor, well out of fallout range.
The shorthand of it is that I filled the recycling bin with dozens of old glass jars and tins. The longhand I’ll spare you except to make the following observations.
When my mother loses something in the cupboard; for example, sago, she simply buys another packet and makes up another jarful. So, over the years, she has replicated dozens of foodstuffs. I found jars of flour and powdered milk and caster sugar and split peas and breadcrumbs and barley going back several generations.
The most replicated item was not a foodstuff. It was: birthday candles. There were large jars and small jars and tins and boxes and unopened new packets of them, along with dozens of those frilly, patterned paper decorative things that you put around birthday cakes and which went out of fashion in about 1960, probably because they used to catch fire from the candles. Some of the candles were probably on my brother’s second birthday cake and he’s on the wrong side of fifty now. Modern birthday candles are spindly and lurid in colour, but these were the old pastel-coloured stumpy ones with widened bases like the serif on the letter 'i'. How can you throw stuff like that out? It’s hard. It’s my family’s life. I compromised. I filled one large tin with them which went back up into the cupboard and the rest went in the bin.
So that was the morning gone and then we had lunch, Mum’s vegetable soup.
The saucepan cupboard is next.