Today's chore was cleaning the pantry. As usual when I'm doing housework, I went back in time.
At our house we've been on a spring cleaning program, moving each weekend through rooms, tossing out the unused and unremembered, and cleaning under everything that remains. Today we did the pantry.
We have cleaned the pantry once before, but we probably haven't done a big cleaning like this in more than ten years. Having room to keep stuff for a long time is one of the pleasures of living in a big old rambling house. I liked cleaning the pantry and scrubbing the shelves again, but I could live with antique paprika too. I could live with a collection of pitchers without lids, seven open boxes of toothpicks, and four half-used sacks of sugar. I realize not everyone feels this way, and I'm pretty sure I'm married to one.
Not every house has a pantry, and our pantry is probably the best part of the house. It is larger than some room rentals I've known, about 10 by 6. Shelves line the short wall and a long wall, and in the middle of the long wall is a deep, dark flour bin that tips open. I can tell from the brackets that next to the bin was a slide-out kneading board that would be comfortable for a woman about 12 inches shorter than me. In the corner of the other long wall is is "cold box," long-ago decommissioned. The cold-box looks sort of like a linen closet: tall with a narrow door. But inside are four wire shelves. The bottom of the box once opened out into the basement, the hole covered by a screen. The top wall once had a screened opening onto the back porch--a porch that long ago was enclosed and turned into an interior hallway. Convection drew air out of the basement and through the cold-box, keeping the vegetables cold--without electricity or gas.
When I lived here in college, the pantry was where "The Phone" was. Remember when collective houses had one telephone? And you took turns using it? Our phone was in the pantry, on a telephone table. When you talked on the phone you sat in a chair, put your feet up on the shelves, and closed the door of the pantry if you needed privacy. You sat there and talked, and could look at nothing but your dry goods. One of our two refrigerators was in there with you, so you could get a beer. The single shared phone in the pantry was normal and comfortable to us, but seems so odd now.
I had some very important telephone conversations in that pantry, but I don't remember a single one.
One of the first things I did when we moved back in to the house in 1993 was clean the pantry. The college boys who rented here after the former owners moved out used the pantry as a recycling closet, except that it was never recycling day and the beer bottles just stacked up to the ceiling. Cleaning it took hours, but I loved it. After being gone for ten years, without a hope of ever living here again, I stood back from myself and watched myself scrubbing the shelves of my beloved pantry again. I could see decades of my future live stretching out before me, all of those years living in this house. And at the same time I connected with the decades of women who had lived here before me, who had cleaned the shelves of this wonderful pantry.
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