On my parents’ first “date,” my dad took my mom to a local grocery store that was having a 50% off deal on jam. The catch? There was a 4 jar limit per customer. It turns out my Zayde (grandfather) had asked my dad to bring a friend with him to be able to buy more. My father, somehow-thinking this would be a good date, invited my mom. They left the store with jars each.
My mother, assumed that my grandparents just really liked this kind of jam.
When they arrived at my Bubbe & Zayde’s house, my parents went down to the pantry in the basement. There, on the shelf were 16 additional jars of the same jam. The were stacked neatly in a row, next to similar quantities of other jarred and canned goods.
I heard the story as a kid as an example of Zayde’s penchant for deals.
I once saw him get a cashier at a supermarket to give him a discount on two cans of soup because they were dented. Of course, Zayde had instructed me not to mention that we had searched specifically for the dented ones.
But of course, the story is also about the residue of the Great Depression.
Their home- full of washed tinfoil smoothed into piles for re-use, balls of rubber bands saved for a rainy day, and chairs/cushions/couches covered in protective plastic- echoed with the whisper of scarcity and the knowledge that things could always fall apart.
Watching the news in February, I saw the signs of what was coming, and I began to stock my pantry in my basement. What would we need if things fell apart? How could I prepare.
I imagined Zayde’s approving look at my pantry shelves full of dried and canned goods.
When I tell my children now to eat everything on their plates and that our lunch will be leftovers so as not to waste the groceries we get once a week, I hear my Bubbe chiding me and my sisters for not finishing our food.
My Bubbe was one of 14 children- only 7 of whom lived to adulthood. My Zayde’s youngest sibling was given to a childless cousin to raise- because the cousin couldn’t conceive, and my great grandparents couldn’t afford to feed their youngest child.
As a kid, I didn’t understand how shortages and disease had shaped by grandparents- how they had been scarred by those years. I worry about the wounds to come. The loss and suffering. The deprivation.
The effects of the this pandemic will outlast the virus.
Its shadow will darken the psyches and stock the pantries of a generation.