The Birthday Present

My mother informed me one day that she and my grandmother had gotten together and sent me an early birthday present in the mail. She said it would be arriving via 6 boxes. I thought, “what on earth did they buy that spanned six boxes?” My mother wouldn’t tell me. She kept saying, “oh, just things you could use.” When i pried and tried to coax her into spilling the beans my mother would reply, “i don’t even remember what’s in it.” I was notorious for opening birthday and christmas presents when they arrived and then feigning total surprise day of…so much so that my family now wrote in the cards “i know you will open this upon receiving it so you don’t have to wait until christmas to call.” I enjoyed this development as i didn’t have to engage in the terrible waiting period to share my joy and gratitude. I wasn’t a fan of waiting or surprises, or patience of any kind. I liked to go go go. This philosophy extended to holidays as well. I lived alone. There were no children to put on festivities for, extended family to cook and decorate for, or significant other to make memories and photographs with so it all just seemed a bit silly for me to put all that importance on getting the day correct. I simply celebrated around the vicinity of the holiday on the calendar and that was good enough for me. Well, my birthday boxes arrived at the post office and i signed for them. The biggest ones came first, with the other four smaller boxes following a week later. I drove the boxes home and lifted them out of the car. I let the dogs outside and began dragging the boxes from the porch, over the threshold, and into the kitchen where i placed them side by side on the floor. I took my knife and ripped the boxes open. There was a mass of brown crinkly paper. As i moved the paper aside i gasped and my eyes lit up with understanding. It was food!!! Every type of pantry staple a girl could have wished for! For a second it was as if the pandemic didn’t exist. I wondered aloud how on earth my mother and grandmother had gotten ahold of this quantity and variety of foods! As i realized what they’d done i began to cry. They’d spent a lot of money on this endeavor. They didn’t have to do this. 1 box of pantry staples would have been a quite sufficient birthday present, but it appeared they’d bought the whole store! Immediately my mind flashed back to a childhood movie i’d seen. It was called “the little princess.” There was a scene where the two girls were locked in the attic of the boarding house, captive servants to the cold-hearted woman who ran it. All they had to eat was gruel and because they were being punished, they didn’t even have that. The girls used their imagination to make-believe a giant feast of muffins and fruit and every type of breakfast food they could imagine. They imagined the room decorated with bright cheery colors and them wearing dresses instead of rags. Then they laughed and twirled as they described how amazing their fresh foods tasted. I replayed the imagery of all their imagined food in my mind and i felt i was staring at the same scene, but it was real. There were rice crackers and rice cakes, dried lentils, green lentil elbow pasta, canned mushrooms, canned kidney beans, canned garbanzo beans, canned butter beans, canned diced tomatoes, red lentil penne, green tea, apple sauce, rolled oats, tinkyada pasta…there was even fish! Canned sardines, canned salmon, canned butternut squash, canned black beans, a bag of cashews, a bag of brazil nuts, a jar of pickles, and a jar of olives. My mother said one of the other boxes contained oat milk, which i used to make weekly yogurt. I was astonished. I felt like the richest person in the world. I felt like the girls in that scene of the movie “the little princess”; consumed with the joy of just seeing it. I realized what they’d done. They had set me up so that on days when i didn’t have anything to eat, i would not go hungry. I carefully placed all the items into the pantry, putting the nuts in the freezer. I stacked and secured them all in their places and then i closed the pantry doors. I vowed not to eat any of it unless i was truly out of the produce that came in the mail weekly. I had to make this last. It was incredibly generous of them to set me up with such peace of mind and food security and it would be irresponsible to gobble it all up in 5 seconds just because it looked good. However, just knowing it was there in the pantry brought me immeasurable joy. Just staring at it every time i opened the door to make oatmeal for breakfast or grab rice for supper…it gave me great peace of mind to know it was present on the shelves and it was exciting to look at all the different shapes and colors of food. I did allow myself two tastes of the spread. I picked out 3 creamy cashews and a tin of sardines with some crackers. The cashews were so good! It had been months since i had tasted anything other than rice and vegetables. It was such a treat! The sardines reminded me of my grandmother. She had taught me how to make them crispy with garlic and salt in the toaster oven long ago. I thought of her whenever i ate sardines. So i ate the sardines. It was the best meal i had eaten in a long time and i savored every bite, breaking the flaky fish apart with my tongue and savoring the oily goodness. My grandmother always saved the sardine juice to pour over my mother’s dog’s supper. So i did the same. I divided the juice between sili and cashew’s bowls, pouring it over their supper and watching the kernels absorb the liquid, residual flakes of fish sticking to the little brown kernels. They loved it and woofed it down with gusto. I stood in the kitchen and stared at the stocked pantry. They had outdone themselves. Nobody in the history of my life would ever outdo this year’s birthday present from my mom and grandmother. It was like a thousand christmases at once.

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