My mother hoarded stuff. Mother and Daddy’s house didn’t look like the houses on the TV show Hoarders. It looked like a fancy antique store bulging with exotic artifacts from Europe and Asia. Except for the kitchen. The kitchen looked like a stage set from the 1970’s: countertops and cabinets crammed with Veg-O-Matics, garlic peelers, avocado slicers, nut choppers, corn holders, pie birds, fondue forks, plastic butter tubs, tin pie-plates, and wax fruit. I don’t think they even make wax fruit anymore. If they do, they shouldn’t.
Mother’s wax fruit was sticky with years of grime. Several times over the years, I tried to get her to throw it out. I’d say, “Mother, if you want a hanging basket of fruit in your kitchen, I’ll go to the store and buy fresh fruit. Eat it and replace it.”
“Leave my wax fruit alone,” she’d say. “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.”
Each time I made the long trip home to see my parents, I tried to clean out one drawer or cabinet while they napped in the afternoon. Once, my MIL had accompanied me on the 700-mile round-rip and was keeping me company when my mother caught me cleaning out the lowliest of her thirteen kitchen drawers. The drawer was full of yellowed newspaper recipes from 1965, sandwich bags of bread-sack twist-ties, and orphaned plastic lids. In the back, wrapped in decayed plastic wrap held together by a rotted rubber band, was an egg slicer. I had tossed everything into a trash bag.
With few exceptions, I don’t own single-purpose kitchen items, yet I’m a competent cook. I make mouth-watering chicken’n’dumplings, authentic Tex-Mex enchiladas, and savory finkadella, all without specialized kitchen utensils.
Granted, I do own a knife sharpener, and it’s a single- purpose item. Likewise my potato peeler (although I managed without one for years), and a toaster (ditto).
I do not own a waffle iron, a Panini maker, or an apple corer. I certainly don’t own an egg slicer. I do own a vegetable knife, a butcher knife, and three handy-dandy paring knives that I use daily; an electric knife that I use weekly; and a serrated knife that I seldom use and have decided to get rid of. Any of my knives can slice an egg. I don’t need an egg slicer.
But apparently my mother thought she did.
She grabbed the trash bag into which I had tossed the egg slicer and started digging through it.
“It’s all trash, Mother,” I said. “Let it go.”
“No,” she said. “You are always throwing away my good things.” She glared at me.
She found the egg slicer in the trash bag and held it up triumphantly. “There!” she cried. “My egg slicer! You were going to throw it away!”
She waved it around. “I’ve been looking all over for it!” She jabbed it toward my MIL. “Look!” she cried, “She threw it away!” My MIL covered her mouth to hide her laughter and shook.
I took a deep breath. “Mother,” I said patiently, “This egg slicer has been in the back of this drawer for so many years that the plastic is yellow and the rubber band around it has rotted. You don’t use it.”
“Well, I wanted to use it, but I couldn’t find it!”
“Mother, you have 35 knives. Why do you need an egg slicer?”
“Because I might want to have a party, and I’d need it to slice the eggs on top of the potato salad!” My MIL bit her lip while tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Mother, you are 85 years old, Daddy is 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease, and you haven’t thrown a party in twenty years.”
“Well, I just might, and if I do, I’ll need this egg slicer.”
So the egg slicer went back into the drawer, and there it sat until Mother died.
The day after the funeral, I called my MIL. “Is there anything of Mother’s that you’d like to have as a memento of her?” I asked.
Yes, she said, there was. And so I dug through the bottom drawer again, found the damned egg slicer, tucked it lovingly in my purse, and drove it 350 miles to its new home.