Pour Some Sugar On Me

Something happened this week that has never, not once, EVER, occurred in my kitchen. I ran completely out of granulated sugar. Whoops. Not just that, I ran out of sugar in the middle of making a cake. I had to scavenge sugar packets from my coffee bar and cobble together a hybrid Splenda powdered sugar slurry. Luckily, the cake texture wasn’t too impacted, and it still rose as it should.

I’ve always made it a habit of keeping baking supplies at the ready. You never know what situation may require STAT cupcakes, and it’s nice not to make a special trip to the store for cocoa powder or eggs. It’s never been difficult to keep my pantry stocked–I just routinely add flour and sugar to my cart right along with milk and bread. If I ran out of molasses on Tuesday, I’d get a replacement when I went shopping on Thursday.

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But the whole sugar debacle got me thinking–not so much about the alchemy of cake sweeteners, but about my obsessive stockpiling of baking soda and chopped pecans. There had to be a deeper cause, otherwise I’d be squirreling away all my shelf stable foods–and I don’t. I only doomsday prep bakery-style. After some reflection, I realized my behavior stems from some childhood experiences and associations.

My Family’s FoodBank

I grew up in a poor, urban neighborhood. My family was by no means wealthy, but our lower-middle class income still separated us from most of our neighbors. We didn’t receive government assistance, but we were familiar with what that struggle looked like–especially toward the end of the month when resources dwindled or ran out. I remember neighbors trying to sell my Mom food stamps at half of their face value so they could pay their bills.

It was pretty common for our neighbors to come over asking to borrow a can of this or that. Kool-Aid was still in fashion, so we frequently dispensed cups of sugar, and sometimes the packets to go with it. We always had food, and my Mom shared knowing full well that we’d never get a replacement can of peaches or ravioli.

There was one woman, Marta(name changed), who’s frequent requests I begrudged. I remember this one time she asked for potatoes because she wanted to make potato salad. We gave her some and she left. Then about 15 mins later she came back and asked for mayonnaise, eggs, and celery.

Pretty soon she was coming over almost every day. We could see her leave her house and start her slow shuffle down the block, breasts swinging and arms slack at her side. Sometimes my siblings and I would hide so we didn’t have to answer the door. If we didn’t answer, she’d walk around the house and peer in and tap on our windows. My siblings complained about her body odor and her infringement of our personal space. I agreed, and I also didn’t think it was right that we gave her so much–especially since she was so creepy and rude.

Idealism, Faulty Reasoning, and Misplaced Motives

When she entered our lives, I had these romantic ideas about sharing resources. I read historical fiction and Amish romances. Any book that included a community picnic or pie contest was right up my alley. The etiquette of these stories dictated that if you borrowed sugar, not only did you return it, but you brought along a cake as a thank-you. These ideas were reinforced real-time when we took meals to church shut-ins and new mothers. Our dishes would be marked with a return address, and while we’d never admit it aloud, we kept score of who sent thank you notes or gushed over our chicken and rice casserole.

Helping “those less fortunate” was always something you did on your time and on your terms. This people-coming-to-our-door thing was difficult for me, but the unabashed shopping list was preposterous. We weren’t a grocery store. I had a shit attitude.

I determined when I was an adult that I’d never behave like Marta. I wouldn’t assume my neighbors would provide me with anything. If I didn’t have an ingredient, I’d go without or wait until I could get it myself. When I did move out, I spent more money on outfitting my pantry than I did on furniture. So began my hording of sugar and spice and everything nice.

What Marta Taught me–25 years later

Looking back, it’s clear to me that Marta wasn’t intentionally rude or “behaving poorly.” She wasn’t conniving, and I don’t believe she knew her window peering or unrelenting knocking was threatening. I’m fairly sure she had a mental disability or cognitive disfunction. She probably suffered from mental illness or grabbled with substance abuse. That was probably the underlaying reason for her poverty and poor social skills. It should have been obvious to us, especially given the group home where she lived. Instead, all I could see was a strange, ungroomed, middle-aged woman with mismatched clothes, no bra, and slightly slurry speech. All I could see was someone different than me who allegedly wanted to take what I had.

Eventually we helped her move into a section-eight assisted living apartment. She was a large woman, and by that time she was wheelchair bound because of diabetic issues in her legs. She called us for a while, but eventually we stopped hearing from her. I don’t know if that was because her phone was turned off or if she died. Either way, I imagine I was probably relieved I didn’t have to deal with her anymore. That’s a difficult thing for me to swallow now.

It’s probably been a decade since I’ve thought of Marta or her potato salad. Initially I was super annoyed at myself for letting my sugar well go dry. But now, I kinda wish it’d happened sooner. It can be pretty horrifying to hold a mirror up to your motivations and actions, even for something as seemingly as innocuous as kitchen habits. But isn’t that what growing is all about? I’d like to think that if a similar situation occurred now, I’d approach it with a little more kindness. At least I hope so. But if you see me being a jerk, I give you full permission to pour some sugar on me and then whap me upside the head.

This is a pretty personal story, but I’d still love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

One comment

  • Chicken and rice, with cream of chicken soup. I loved that when I was a kid. Mom quit making it because Dad didn’t like it. I would love to eat that again. BTW, I’m not ignoring what you said about Marta. I just latched on to the chicken and rice!

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