My grandma is one of an elite circle of divine Tupperware-and-Cool-Whip-container goddesses. Her sacred power? Packing up delicious, love-seasoned leftovers to send home with her loved ones. She doesn’t wield her powers as often as she once did but, when I was a kid, the magic was flying all the time.
Sundays often went like this: Dinner (which was really lunch) around Grandma’s kitchen table in DeSoto, Kan.; nap on the living room floor; dessert back at the kitchen table; extended thank yous and goodbyes as she divvied up leftovers. Once back at home, when I opened the fridge, just the sight of her vintage Tupperware containers filled with remnants of our Sunday dinner was comforting to me, an instant symbol of the fact I was loved. When you’re a kid, you need that reminder, and often. Edit: When you’re a human, you need that reminder, and often. And so, with apologies to my friends, I must blame my grandma for getting me hooked on lovingly prepared hand-me-down food gifts wrapped in a snap-lidded receptacle, because that cycle of foodborne love is irreconcilably the cause of my present-day Tupperware thievery.
I opened my container cabinet yesterday and plastic spilled out everywhere. I stopped an avalanche of glass jars from falling by jimmying my thigh against the top shelf. I then noticed I’ve been withholding some things that aren’t technically mine. It’s true I’ve never formally stolen anything besides a candy corn from the bulk bin at Hy-Vee in Leawood, Kan., and yet I might be a kleptomaniac. Of the Tupperware variety.
My grandma had a cabinet full of that pale green and burnt orange-ish early-days Tupperware, the kind with the triangularly-bumpy lids that took a million tries to close up tight. Once she’d filled them with our goods, we transported them to our house and eventually ate their contents, at which point they sat on the back counter of my childhood home awaiting her next visit, or ours, so we could return them. It seems like a varying assortment of my grandma’s containers perpetually rested on that back counter for most of my childhood. Seeing the stack was a reminder of that particular Sunday dinner at her house, the nap we took on her floor after eating, the sound of the ice cream scoop clinking against the blender glass…
Every time, she carefully packed a brown paper bag stacked with take-home containers and sprinkled with Starlight mints and Russell Stover’s individually wrapped French mints, which we opened and devoured on the drive home. We’d enjoy the bag’s remaining contents that night or the next day, relishing her homemade (angel-food cake), full-butter (mashed potatoes), powdered sugar-sprinkled (strawberries), Crisco-fried (pork tenderloin patties), slow-stewed (spaghetti sauce with meatballs), whole-milk (cottage cheese salad), marshmallow-topped (sweet potatoes) creations.
When she moved out of her house a couple years ago in favor of a senior living center, I got to take home her Tupperware pie slice container. I’ve only used it once or twice, but every time I see it in the back of my cabinet, I smile.
Without questioning the fact that a plastic container can make me smile, I admit the sight of more than a couple of the containers I’ve been harboring brings about a sense of comfort and joy. Especially yours, Joanie. Still, only my Grandma has said of the pie container, “Take it, Honey. I don’t want it back.” As for the others, I will now attempt to make amends:
Joanie, this is the container that held the chocolate cream pie you made for Dennis’ birthday. It was the best dang chocolate pie I’ve ever eaten, yes, but it was way more than that to me at the time. One, I think it was the very first of many exquisite homemade creations you shared with me. Two, that pie was a symbol of all the love, friendship, mothering and good TLC you gave me when I needed it more than I needed the air around me. I apologize for this, but unless you have a sentimental attachment to this container that merits my trip to the post office, you are never, ever getting that container back from me. The best I’ll be able to do is to pay that love forward. I really hope you’re ok with this.
Emilee, this is from that time when Jim rode his bike to our house in the middle of the party you two were hosting to deliver low-country delicacies to Brian, who was on his own with then-Baby Kip for the weekend and had to leave your party early before the food was ready. Brian was so touched someone would do that for him. I’m sentimental about it because your man took care of my man. And that is why you never saw it again.
Becca, that tomato soup you made was otherworldly. How did you know I had nothing in the fridge for my lunch the next day? Somehow, you always know. You even said, “This is for your lunch tomorrow,” when you produced it out of your purse. You bring me nourishment in a variety of ways, but this jar? This jar contained an extra special dose of liquid love. I do actually plan to give it back to you, however, because I know those Ball jar lids are key when you’re canning, like, kaffir lime leaf relish from the tree in your kitchen. Or something. Suffice it to say, you inspire me. (Note: Between writing and posting this, I broke the jar. I really apologize for that. I will be giving you back your lid, though, just in case.)
Liz, this jar contained a steaming stockpot’s supply of the delectable powdered hot cocoa mix with which you gifted me. Your darling container now holds my guajillo chiles. And I think of you—so fondly—every time I grab one. That was a really great gift, and I don’t think I’m ready to part with the daily reminder of your sweet friendship just yet.
Alyson, I know these BPA-free Whole Foods containers don’t grow on trees, but this particular one contained a scrumptious lentil vegetable stew, which you delivered as part of our soup exchange last year, and I loved it. I’m not sure if it healed a cold I had that day or if it made me feel better because it arrived in a moment when I really needed someone else taking care of me, but even though my name written on the lid is a constant reminder that I neglected to return it to you, so far, the reminder of the love it once contained keeps it in my regular rotation. I promise, on a day you least expect it, I will return it to you full of the sambar for which you have such a flattering appreciation.
Cin, I’m actually not harboring any of your containers at the present, but I once did, and for a long time. If you hadn’t asked me about a different container (also from the aforementioned soup exchange), thus unintentionally flushing my cheeks about a separate container I’d been withholding, you never would’ve gotten it back, mark my words. Nonetheless, even though it’s no longer in my possession, it bears mentioning here. You are my dairy-free-organic-vichyssoise angel. You are a magician, and soups are your ultimate performance. You take potatoes and leeks and turn them into a grounding elixir of joy. You transform kale and white beans into steaming bowls of light. Many times I found the container in question, a large Ball jar with the two-part lid, in my mailbox, or swathed in a plastic bag on my doorstep. No note. No text. No voicemail. Just soup. For me. It was the best surprise. I apologize for holding onto it for so long. It’s just that it made me so happy to look at it, like someone was out there thinking of me and making an effort to care for me.
So, thanks to Grandma, I equate containers of food with presents of love. Brian declared early on that “it takes a village to love Emily.” And, in surveying all my stolen Tupperware, I’m feeling very thankful that a village I do have. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you be laden with love, food-borne and otherwise, on this holiday and every day.