Saturday, May 25, 2013

"P" is for pickles. Too many pickles. And paper towels, too.

I'm not a "list" kind of person. When I go to the grocery store, I wing it.

That would be why this happens: pickles. Jars and jars of pickles.

And bottles and bottles of ketchup.

When I walk down the aisles in Hy-Vee that hold those two items, I cannot for the life of me recall whether we need them. So I buy another jar, and another bottle. And when I get home, invariably, my husband's comment is something to the effect of, "Are you OK? Next time, just don't buy them. Assume we have them. Because we do."

So I thought about why I'm incapable of not buying them, and I came up with this. It ran as an essay in the Des Moines Register on June 14, 2008, but the idiosyncrasies still hold true.


I realized when I freaked out over the paper towels that despite my efforts to the contrary, I'm growing more like my father every day.

My husband brought it to my attention. When the paper towels near the end of their roll, I take a new roll out of the pantry and set it near the spindle so whoever uses the last towel can make the switch. Admittedly, that person is usually me. No one else in my household really seems to care if there's a Bounty at the ready.

One day not long ago, I realized that there were only a few towels left before the roll would need to be replaced. So I looked in the pantry -- but no extra roll. There was no roll under the sink, either, or above the stove.

A little more stressed than I would have cared to admit, I called my husband. He was running errands, so I asked him to pick up a roll of towels. He brought them home, looked on the counter, and said, "I thought you said we were out."

"Well, no," I said. "But we're going to be out."

"You know, don't you," he said, "how weird that is." And he shook his head and walked away. I knew what he was thinking ... because I had been dumb enough to tell him about the bomb shelter.

It wasn't a bomb shelter, really, but my dad's bathroom closet when I was growing up. On its shelves were enough provisions to see us through months of house arrest. There were paper towels, of course, and toilet paper, and row upon row of deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash.

When anyone else in the family would run out of anything, we would know just where to go, and we also knew Dad would replenish the stock every Saturday morning. He'd put on his perfectly creased slacks and sport shirt, add a gold chain or two and his toupee. We'd drive off in his massive robin's-egg-blue Lincoln Continental to Kmart, where he'd check out the blue-light specials with something resembling glee.

"Do you know that if you buy 10 of these, you save 17 cents a box?" he'd ask me as he loaded up on Kleenex, Old Spice or cellophane tape. Soon, the cart would be full, and we'd be on our way. Sometimes we'd stop at my uncle's so my dad could boast about his savings.

Then it was time to go home and unpack the treasures, and I remember how much I liked the way the neat, full shelves looked. The mouthwash would peek over the Kleenex, which would form a backdrop for the toothpaste boxes. When he was finished, Dad would sigh contentedly and close the door.

You'd have only to survey my pantry to know I didn't inherit the organization gene, but I did seem to inherit the need to be well-stocked. A half-filled refrigerator unnerves me, and I'll make a special drive to the salon to buy a backup can of hairspray, even if I took the cap off a new one just that morning. All is right with the world if my son has not only a second set of razor blades, but a third.

I certainly can understand where my dad's compulsions came from: His parents were immigrants, and he grew up in the Depression, appreciating the things he had and longing for things his family couldn't afford.

That all must have made an impression: He has always been able to pinch a penny until it bled; in fact, he was able to pay cash for my Drake education -- a fact that, as the mother of a current college student, blows me away. And despite all our ribbing over the years, at 88, Dad is living comfortably in retirement.

At half my dad's age, I have a bank balance and a 401(k) that are a lot smaller than they should be. But his ways have made an impact: My car is 10 years old, and I'll drive it till it dies. I weigh each purchase so carefully that my teenagers will urge me now and again to buy something for myself. I turn the ketchup bottles on their heads in the fridge to wring out every last drop.

And if paper towels are on sale, of course, I buy rolls of them.

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