Jean Croker Petke

Last Year’s Cranberries

Last Year’s Cranberries

I buy lots of cranberries every November and December,  stashing them in the freezer to use  throughout the year. Then I get to next year’s Thanksgiving and the cranberries are still there. I didn’t use them because I was afraid I’d run out before I could buy more. It’s the mentality of scarcity.

Perhaps it’s my version of hoarding. Holding on and holding on and then holding on some more. I don’t do it with everything — just cranberries. And gourmet treats from my travels. And my mother’s crystal. And my antique tea cups. And my boxes of leftover yarn.

Frozen cranberries are my reminder of how I save things for special occasions, which never seem to come — or at least they’re not quite special enough.

This year has been different.

  • The cranberries are gone by early October. Gone!!
  • One of mother’s crystal goblets broke. Not because I was using it, but because it fell over in the cabinet — all by itself. Somehow, now that the set is less than perfect, it’s easier to use them for any occasion.
  • My borrowed children, ages 4 – 10, came for Easter tea and we used the antique cups. No one has ever enjoyed those cups more than these children. Even if one had broken, we had a wonderful time savoring tea in special cups.

The first time of anything is often the hardest: the first time I run out of cranberries before more are available in the market, the first time an antique glass breaks, the first time I allow little ones to use the cups I’ve cherished my entire life, the first time I throw away part of my leftover yarn. The truth is I almost never find anything in that box I can use.

Our holding on causes us to miss the joy: the joy of cranberries in summer, the joy of using mother’s wedding crystal, the joy of children at their first tea party, the joy of extra closet space when I rid it of useless stuff.

Is there an unwritten rule that says we have to save things for special occasions? Or that we have to store things in case we might need them one day? Or because there’ll be no more if we use it up?

Or is it the tape of our mother’s voice, playing in our head — a mother who lived through the Depression, or suffered in hard times, or who talked of saving for a rainy day, or who never had enough when she was young. Such voices are difficult to silence.

But we can step beyond the voice that has bound us. We can say, “Yes, I am worthy of the best — even on this very ordinary day.” I can celebrate my very ordinariness with cranberries in July, tea in my best cup, champagne in my finest crystal. I can have a party in the middle of my work.

Treat yourself to joy. Don’t delay.

There’s plenty more for tomorrow — and the day after and the day after that.

Until next Tuesday . . .



3 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Pam Baker-Redman -

    I loved this story & it brought back many memories of my childhood. My own mother who has been gone since I was barely 19 “saved” things in the much the same way. She saved old clothes (there were accumulations of boxes & boxes of them I had to sort through, donate & discard after she passed.) I remember her diving in to those old boxes for a Halloween costume for me one year. I stood there as she dressed me in the most hideous garb from those boxes, tied one of her old scarves around my head & got out her mascara (the kind Maybelline used to made in a little slide out drawer with an applicator brush) & started painting my face. Oh how I wish I had a photo of the finished look! It is important that a child know what or who they are imitating & I was certain I wasn’t a ghost, Cinderella or Red Riding Hood. ‘What am I, mommy?’ I dared to ask. Without hesitation, she replied “You’re ‘One-eyed Maggie from Singapore!” (I’ve Googled this character. She doesn’t exist. She came straight out of my mother’s imagination. Remembering this still makes me smile.

    My mother had sets of sheets, new towels & new cookery & new handmade quilts her mother made. She was “saving@ these things. She too survived the depression. I never remember drinking out of crystal as a child because all of our drinking glasses were an assortment of recycled jelly jars, peanut butter & mayonnaise jars or old Ball/Mason jars. Sometimes we got a “fancy” piece of glassware out of a box of oats. Mom never formally “entertained” but any drop-in guest was welcomed to eat at our table without invitation, dining from whatever mismatched dishes & glasses she had available. She was unapologetic. There wasn’t so much as a twinge of sadness if one piece got broken.

    When she died, my dad remarried a short 4 months later out of sheer loneliness. He was lost without a companion because my mother took care of everything. When Dad remarried, the “saved” sheets, towels, cookery, etc. came out of their wrappers & were used by another woman without reservation……every single day. Matched dishes & glassware were purchased.

    At the age of 19, I was paying attention. Lesson learned. Now I have my own crystal & I have fancy stemware but they weren’t family heirlooms. I don’t use them everyday because otherwise it wouldn’t feel quite as special when I did. But that doesn’t mean I am hoarding or saving them. I use them when the mood seems right. If I happen to break one, life goes on. I doubt that I own a matched set, but one can only drink out of one glass at a time anyway & the different patterns make your individual glasses easy to identify without using those fancy do-dads on the stems :-). Practicality is an amazing thing too!

    Still, I would love to be able to sit down at my mother’s table again & dine from the chipped, cracked & mismatched dishes she bought from a grocery store & drink from one of her old repurposed jelly glasses.

    • jcpetke -

      Thanks, Pam, for sharing your memories. My childhood family also had mismatched dishes and silverware and repurposed jelly glasses.

    • Debbie Wright -

      Pam, I love this story. Oh your mother, was like no other. I loved coming to your house and being asked to stay for supper. She always made me feel special. And of course, so did your dad. And they always had so many interesting things.

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