When we cleaned out my brother’s apartment after his last semester in college, I came across an entire drawer full of empty bread bags, twist ties and all. They were stuffed in there so tightly I could hardly pull them out; he must have been saving them the whole time he’d lived there.
“Do you want me to toss these,” I yelled to him from the kitchen.
“Oh, no, those are good bread bags,” he said, in a way that suggested all bread bags were good.
“But why do you keep them?”
“I don’t really know. Nanny always did, so I thought I was supposed to.”
Nanny, our mother’s mother, had lived through The Depression and didn’t throw anything out that looked like it might have possible future use. Beyond covering tomato plants when temperatures were likely to fall suddenly and kill the young fruit, I couldn’t think of a single use for bread bags. And since I didn’t grow tomatoes, I didn’t see the need to adopt the habit of keeping them.
I thought about my brother the other day, while I was wiping down the outside of a plastic bread bag with a disinfectant wipe, and wondered if he still has a drawer full of them in his kitchen. Wondered if these days they smelled like lemon-scented Lysol or maybe Clorox Fresh Scent. He lives alone, and already worked from home even before a global pandemic sent us all in search of adequate home office equipment. I worried about him for just a moment, being alone all the time now, then brushed the worry aside. He was made for this, for hunkering down and bearing through hard things. He was a bread bag keeper.
After wiping it down, I handed the loaf to my son whose job it was to take the disinfected groceries and put them away. He was doing the task mostly silently, having run out new topics of conversation since the last time we spoke only a few minutes earlier. I watched him walk across the room, noticing his broadening chest, his angular chin and cheekbones where softer lines used to be.
“We will need to buy you some new shoes before school starts back,” I said. If school starts back, I thought. An attempt to exert some control over his getting older with maternal care.
He didn’t really respond. Just mumbled something like okay without looking up. He’s not a rude kid. He just didn’t have anything in particular to say at the moment.
I continued to watch him as he put the groceries away. Thought about the last time he looked a friend in the eye, the last time he had to make conversation when he didn’t really know what to say, or was forced to sit in awkward silence with a buddy.
I finished wiping down the milk cartons, the boxes of crackers, and the soda cans, then put all the plastic grocery bags on the back porch so they could sit in the sun. I heard sunlight is a good way to kill the virus. I’d gather them all up in a day or two and take them back to the recycling bin out in front of the store.
We didn’t get chicken breasts in our order. They had been out of the kind I wanted, and I missed the text asking me to approve a substitution, so now I had to come up with a new plan for dinner. Thankfully, I had stocked up on canned goods in the early days, and had a few cans of garbanzo beans left, so I could still make the Indian dish, except vegetarian. I’m pretty decent in the kitchen, and my boys rarely complain, besides we are all a little more used to “making do” than we were a few months ago.
As I started dinner prep, I heard Bryan on the phone in his bedroom office, ranting to a co-worker about some issue they’d been dealing with most of the day. I eavesdrop, even though I couldn’t keep from overhearing him if I tried, and get a sneak peek at the man he is at work. He’s wound tight, but clearly knows what he’s talking about. I decide he’s the guy I’d want working on the issue if it was mine.
Then, I heard our son’s laughter pealing through the house. He was in his room playing an online game with some friends, making jokes, bantering, enjoying social interaction in the only way they can.
I called out that dinner was ready, and as we all lined up at the sink to wash our hands for the hundredth time that day, I wondered. What will our kids stuff in their kitchen drawers when they go to college? Will their grandchildren tuck Lysol wipes in the car because Grandpa lived through COVID-19 or will they give up cars entirely, preferring to stay home and work safe? When this daily bread has long been eaten, what will be the bread bags that we keep?
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