The Pantry

By Brad Dement

I don’t know that our food pantry was any different from any one else’s. What I do know is our pantry was never empty. And that was the problem. It had all kinds of old “pickled this” and “canned that” that none of us was ever going to eat. Some of the jars I recalled playing with when I was a toddler, and I was probably eleven or twelve at the time. This stuff was getting ancient. We never got close to finishing what was in the pantry before mother came back with more food to pack in front of the old stuff. This pantry stuffing cycle had gone on for years.

One-day mother was fixing dinner while daddy sat at the kitchen table reading the paper. I was foraging for cookies in the pantry, my warm-up before dinner. I grumbled something about all the old cans and jars that were getting in the way. “We ought to throw this stuff out. It’s taking up at least a third of the pantry.” I said. Neither of them seemed to react.

A couple of days later daddy reminded me about my pantry suggestion. He said I was right. We weren’t very efficient with the pantry space, and some of the food we stocked would probably never be eaten. But he wanted to explain something important about our pantry to me.

He said that when he was a young boy, Mom and Pop and his two brothers were living in a small house in San Antonio. This was during the period of the Great Depression. I had heard that term before, but had only a vague idea of what it meant. I recalled once seeing a picture of daddy, as a little kid, dressed in what they said were flower sacks. Back then, times must have been tight – real tight.

He went on to explain that in his house the pantry was always empty. Not low, not thin, it was totally empty. Before mealtime, mom would give one of the boys a few cents. They would walk down to the store, and purchase whatever items were going into that meal (only). That meal was prepared and eaten, down to the last little bit. The pantry that momentarily held supplies for the meal was again totally empty. “It was that way for every meal, he said. If anything interrupted the routine, if the store ran out, or if the pennies weren’t in the jar, there would be no meal.” I guess it made made an impression on him that has lasted his entire life.

“That’s why we have a full pantry”, he said. No, we don’t need all that food. I know we won’t eat everything in there. “It simply makes me feel better knowing that our pantry is nowhere near empty.” He sounded almost apologetic. I think he was embarrassed about this insignificant little insecurity of his. But not so much that it was going to stop him from explaining it, and putting it in a context that I might understand. Another “lesson”.

He said the depression affected a lot of people in his generation that way, and I should keep it in mind. It might help me better understand people I would encounter in my life who lived through that era.

He was right – again.