Found in the freezer

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We set a date for Saturday when no one had to work to help Dad defrost his freezer. Dad and Mom had always done this each January before leaving for Florida, but with Mom’s illness which led to her death in February, there was no trip south. White crust was building in the freezer, and Dad dreaded every task that had to be done for the first time without Mom.

It was nothing compared to the frost in mine, which is thick enough now to impair my freezer space (mine does not get done annually), but their regular cleaning was as much to take inventory as to defrost. Since each of us “kids” helps with cooking at the farm, we needed to know what was there to use up.

For the umteenth time, we heard Dad’s story of how the appliance salesman had questioned their desire for a non-frost-free freezer. “Don’t you care about your wife?” the salesman said,”you don’t want her to have that extra work of defrosting, do you?” as he tried to direct their attention to the frost-free models.

“It has nothing to do with how I feel about her.” Dad had said, “We want one you have to defrost.” Plain and simple.

The little extra work has its advantages. It does make you have to clean and take stock of what you have stored. (Well, for most conscientious homemakers it works that way; I’m just lazy and a first rate “putter-offer.”)

We unloaded the freezer shelves into plastic laundry baskets and covered them with sleeping bags that were conveniently stored in the basement – that’s where the freezer is. We unplugged it, channeled its hose to a shallow plastic lid to capture the run-off water, and a small heater was placed on a stool to speed the process along.

We adjourned upstairs for lunch. It was the first time we’d made time for a meal together since mom’s funeral. It was good to have a reason to get together other than a holiday.

Going back to the freezer, we wiped everything down with cleaner, and as we unloaded the baskets of food, the stock taking began. Dad made a list. More than a dozen small butter tubs of strawberry jam we put back in the door shelves. Dad asked if, come strawberry time, I would make jam with him. Of course, I’ll look forward to it and I’ll take my 10-year-old to help since she is the one in my family who enjoys it the most (on ice cream, sometimes).

Berries, rhubarb, applesauce, tomatoes, Jim’s corn from 2001 and 2000, a box marked last-of-season corn (old, for soup), and so on – all in Mom’s neat writing with her notations.

No one got emotional during our work, but it took Dad a while to join us at the table for dinner and I noticed the small devotional book he had been reading before he did.

Cleaning the freezer was a family time for reflection. Most everything went back in with a few exceptions – some ’93 peaches that were freezer burned and brown, some “medium” salsa that had been too hot (I used it in some chili the next week), and the oldest applesauce which we decided should be used that night for supper.

There was one thing we put back we weren’t sure of – elderberries. I think we should make a “Through the Years Elderberry Pie.” The four pint boxes we found should be just enough; one from 2000, two from ’93, and one from…’83! Twenty-year-old elderberries should have an interesting flavor!

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