Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011

I was visiting with a friend a while back and she mentioned that she'd cleaned out her cupboards recently and had given a lot of the excess stuff to her kids. "It's amazing what you can collect in forty or fifty years," she commented. She inspired me, so I began the task of lightening the load in my kitchen cupboards.

Most kitchens have at least two of lots of tools. Ice cream scoops, for instance, and sets of measuring cups, and half-gallon pitchers, but toasters? Someone gives you one, for some reason, and you can't get rid of the old one because it still works, so it goes in the far corner under the counter, where you store the round waffle iron because the square is better. Also the small coffee pot still in the box that you'll use someday, when you cut down on coffee, and the extra angel food cake pan.

I suppose every kitchen has a cupboard or two that is out of reach, hence, unusable except for storage. My other one is above the refrigerator. Of course that doesn't mean that the only place that has redundant "stuff" is in that little space above the fridge, but that is the one that holds heaven only knows what. I have to stand on a step-stool and move everything off the top of the refrigerator to even begin to reach into that space. It has collected souvenir cups -- you know, the ones you get when you attend a convention or annual meeting that are emblazoned with the logo of wherever or whatever you are celebrating -- glasses with "Happy New Year" in decorative script, too small to be useful but too good to throw away, a set of plastic plates my students in a village made me as an art project one year, and miscellaneous bowls and platters I've never used but might someday. I'm not too sure my kids want any of that stuff!

My mom had a technique for being sure each of us got what we wanted from her "collection." Every so often she'd say "I've been going through things. If you want something put your name on it. Otherwise it goes to the thrift store." And we'd do that -- the wine glasses, certain salt and pepper shakers, the China cups. I put my name on a beautiful antique, domed top, gold rimmed, two-piece cut crystal butter dish one time. When we finally needed to divide the folks' stuff one of the sisters and I both took aim on that dish. Her name was on the top piece, mine on the bottom.

We laughed ... she's got it, but I can bring it to Alaska any time I want to, or so she tells me.

One thing no one ever claimed was the Melmac dishes. Do you remember Melmac? It is still in use today, but in a much refined state. Mom's set of dinnerware had four colors: gray, maroon, dark green and chartreuse. They were heavy, about a quarter of an inch thick, and square.

Have you ever tried to drink from a square cup? It only took once to remember to drink from the corner. Mom stored it on the top shelf after all of us kids left home -- after all, who knew when we might return -- and it was there at the bottom of the stack of deviled egg plates, excess soup bowls, and Grandma's second best set of dishes when I went to visit one time and we cleaned her cupboards. At least it moved to a box in the basement where it went out piece-by-piece whenever someone needed a dish to feed a cat or a receptacle for odds and ends. It was marketed as durable, and it was, in fact, indestructible. I think if I go to the farm now, 60 years later, somewhere I'll see a piece of that stuff being used as a dog dish or plant saucer.

Today's homemakers are not collectors. In fact the lament from many of my friends from the old days and ways is they don't know what they'll do with all the "stuff" they've collected over the years -- keepsakes, good junk, antiques -- because the kids don't want it. Modern kitchens don't have room for two cookie jars or an extra peeler and few of today's young people have any desire to preserve the family heirlooms. More's the pity.

My grandmother was the last remaining of her many siblings, and as such had acquired what was left of the family keepsakes. The family motto was "Give it to Aunt Ruth." She was nearly 105 when she passed, so she had a good many years to collect not only her own heirlooms but to absorb the family's remainders.

When she moved out of her house, we cousins had the chore of separating the good from the not-so-good and putting it all someplace to be dealt with "when the time comes." Needless to say, it was all still there when we had to clear my folks' house. Amazing what one can accumulate in 105 years.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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