I grew up in a household where nothing was ever thrown away. Furniture, clothing, mattresses, pots and pans, dishes – were all recycled to other members of the family. When my mother was getting rid of something she would ask everyone in the family if they wanted her “perfectly good” whatever.
The truth is, whatever my mother was giving away, even after twenty years of use, was always in better shape than whatever cheap stuff I had in my house. There was a time when I had taken her perfectly good dining room set, her perfectly good couch, perfectly good recliner and my father’s piano.
My son, who was eight years old at the time, said, “I know why grandma is giving us all her furniture. So when she moves in with us, she’ll have all her stuff here already.”
This frugality is part of my mother’s character, and where it was most evident was in the kitchen where nothing was wasted. Dinner leftovers were reheated, plain and simple, or they were incorporated with other ingredients to create something unrecognizable from its original form and flavor. Leftovers were never thrown away. That would be a sin.
When my mother was told not to eat egg yolks because her cholesterol was too high she separated the eggs and made a fertilizer for her arborvitaes from the discarded yolks. If my mother ever saw me dump a yolk down the drain, as I have often done when making my egg white scrambles, she would shame me with words like “sin” and “waste” and her personal tales of childhood hunger during the Great Depression.
Despite the wasted egg yolks, I like to think that I’ve learned well from my mother’s lessons of frugality in the kitchen. I am very creative with leftovers, though I often toss them after the second reheat when most of the nutritional value is gone.
That brings me to my Thanksgiving confession.
We were invited out this year for Thanksgiving. My generous sister-in-law said, “Bring some Tupperware for leftovers!” I brought a shopping bag full of plastic containers, but none of them were large enough to hold the two turkey carcasses.
“Stop!” I said, as my brother was aiming the first carcass toward the garbage pail. “I’ll take that! I can make a great turkey soup with that.”
“Take both of them,” he said, after carving up the second turkey.
I felt like I had hit the jackpot as I left with a shopping bag full of leftovers and two turkey carcasses. Driving home in the car, I said to my mother, “Can you believe they were going to throw the carcasses in the garbage?”
“I know,” she said. “They do that.”
I came home to the apartment that night, opened my tiny refrigerator and stood there for several minutes looking back and forth between the shopping bag full of leftovers and the packed refrigerator shelves. After moving things around, I was able to pile the containers on top of each other, but there was no way to fit two turkey carcasses in there too.
Rather than give up my plans for a turkey soup, I started carving the meat off the bones and thought I might smash the carcasses flat to better fit them in the refrigerator. As I carved, I picked on some tender pieces close to the bone and, in the process, I probably ate the equivalent of a light lunch.
By the time I was done, I was sickeningly full. Between the big Thanksgiving meal and my carcass picking, I couldn’t stand the smell of turkey on my hands. The thought of cracking up the bones with a hammer seemed repulsively barbaric, so I threw the carcasses in the garbage and was glad to be rid of them.
What a sin! I heard my mother’s voice in my head.
But I could still make a nice turkey soup or a big potpie with the six or seven cups of meat chips I had scraped off the carcasses. (The thought had briefly crossed my mind to hang the carcasses by a rope out the apartment window overnight, but I was sure the squirrels or raccoons would get them before I could haul them back in in the morning.)
Within the hour, I felt the beginnings of indigestion. I took papaya pills before I went to bed. Later that night I got out of bed and mixed my agita cocktail: ½ teaspoon of baking soda in ½ cup of water. Nothing worked. Every time I burped, I tasted turkey and stuffing.
The next night we ate the leftovers for dinner and, again, I developed nasty indigestion. There is no exhaust fan over my stove, so the apartment smelled of turkey all night. Even my hair smelled of turkey when my head hit the pillow.
I got up again to relieve my heartburn with another agita cocktail and spent most of the night reading Room, a novel by Emma Donoghue. When I got to the chapter where the mother makes curry for lunch and the curry stink lingers in Room all through the night, I got nauseous. Curry and turkey. Just mixing the two together in my mind almost made me lose the undigested contents in my stomach.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…First thing the next morning I turned the Tupperware full of turkey bits upside down, opened the lid and dumped all the meat into the garbage can. My husband sat, silently sipping his coffee, and lifted his eyebrows in surprise. In forty years, I don’t think he’s ever seen me throw food away unless it had mold growing on it.
What a sin! I heard my mother say. What a waste! All that good meat in the garbage.
“I can’t help it; I can’t stand the smell of turkey anymore!” I argued outloud with the voice in my head.
“That’s fine with me,” my husband said.
“Sure; I don’t care if I ever eat turkey again.”
What a relief. For now. But I know it’s not over. Any day now, I’m afraid my mother will ask me, “How did the turkey soup come out?” and then I’ll have to confess and face the consequences.