Taking stock of what’s in my pantry reminds me of how truly fortunate so many of us have been. Nationwide trucking, international produce imports, and refinements in freezing have made it possible to enjoy just about any fruits and vegetables any time of the year.
Suddenly, now that running to the grocery store is no longer routine or even affordable, every item in the pantry matters. As I looked over the few canned foods on the pantry shelf, I was struck by how much had changed and remembered a story about canned peaches that had touched me deeply. Here goes:
My dad had broken his hip and was in a rehabilitation hospital after surgery. His roommate was a gentle man named Pete who had just been diagnosed with advanced cancer and was waiting on a hospice bed to become available in another part of the facility.
During daily visits to cheer my father on in his recovery, I initially felt sad for Pete. But Pete was always cheerful and did his best to smile. One day he exclaimed, “My daughter is bringing me something special tomorrow. She’s bringing me canned peaches! I can already taste those peaches…there’s nothing in the world as good as canned peaches!”
I had some trouble appreciating the specialness of CANNED peaches. As a longtime convert to organic foods and regular trips to the farmer’s market, the notion of canned peaches didn’t seem like such an improvement over hospital food.
The next afternoon when I walked into my dad’s room, Pete greeted me with a hearty welcome and the declaration, “My daughter’s bringing those canned peaches today!” As I sat with my father who was drifting in and out of mild delirium, Pete’s daughter came in the room, kissed her dad on his forehead, and asked, “Do you know what I have for you?” He blurted, “Canned peaches!!” as she pulled the can out of a bag and handed him a spoon.
A while later as a nursing assistant was helping Pete to the bathroom, I asked his daughter about his love for those canned peaches. She told me that Pete had been an infantryman during World War II and spent the war eating K-rations, dreaming of the day he returned stateside with a vow to eat as many canned peaches as he could find.
I remember thinking, how wonderful that Pete—in the middle of his last battle, this time with cancer—should focus again on the same hard-won simple pleasure. I’ve never been able to look at a can of peaches without a smile.
That memory also has me looking at every bag, can, and package in my pantry with a deeper appreciation for what’s there instead of any sense of loss over daily routines put on indefinite hold.
R.A. Kroft writes about her day-to-day journey in living a smaller, more sustainable life and other topics that interest her.
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