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MARGARET'S MUSINGS: A woman's history in the freezer

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The subject of this column has changed three times since I started it.

Last Thursday night as I tried to gain much needed sleep, visions of brightly colored frozen fruits and vegetables danced in my head. With each, a bit more sadness crept into my sleepy consciousness.

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Just hours before a friend and I took on the task of cleaning out a large upright freezer. Thankfully there were two of us who took it on. While I steadily became more morose about the contents we were discovering, she kept me on task constantly assuring me that the bright colors did not mean quality still remained. To test her theory, I took a sample on the way to disposing one of the five gallon pails full of frozen produce. It proved she was correct.

As we gradually found the shelves hidden behind the frozen collection of one woman's work, it became obvious that this person was amazing.

The contents came from two basic categories.

Fruits and vegetables carefully packaged in home freezing containers and readymade items purchased as a monthly fundraiser for the local grade school.

Before you make any assumptions or label this person as a food hoarder or worse, let me share with you some of the details of what we found. The history of this woman and her spouse were reflected in many ways on the shelves of the old upright.

Many of the containers held four cups of raspberries, just the right amount to make her favorite raspberry pie. By the way, some of those assembled but not yet baked pies were also discovered as we uncovered the frozen mysteries. Quart canning jars contained grape juice waiting to be made into jelly.

A five pound container of Door County cherries, purchased on a vacation trip was still waiting to be converted to...

Green string beans, broccoli and delicately pressed and vacuum sealed Italian parsley rounded out that color on the spectrum. Bags of frozen, cleaned and chopped rhubarb were waiting silently in the dark to spring to life in a crisp.

Cranberries, no doubt purchased on sale at Thanksgiving time, gave the place a holiday atmosphere. Tomatoes of various sizes waited for the chance to become juice or sauce.

Technological changes were noted in the packaging processes as the contents reflected years of work and, in a way, investment.

On the ready-made side we found luscious pies, boxed and sealed, but still pale in color for lack of baking. Individual oddities included cinnamon cream cheese filled bagel roll-ups, frozen fruit cocktails or "bramble" berries. Most of the ready-made items reflected no expiration dates while the hand packaged ones had a handwritten month and year explaining when they entered the upright. An occasional pizza, purchased from a youth knocking on the door for a good cause also resided inside waiting for a chance to come to life in the oven.

To me the food we discovered reminded me of the true character of the owners, and specifically about the woman's life.

The owners moved to the country as newlyweds. He once lived on a farm in Michigan for a short time when horses were the primary means of turning the fields. She was an orphaned daughter of a coal miner turned baker. Both were first generation Americans.

They moved out to the country from Chicago, where they had met.

As the years went by they learned together how to raise nearly every vegetable, fruit tree and critter on their little piece of heaven. Chickens, ducks, rabbits, lambs and Holstein calves were food sources they raised and with the exception of the lambs and calves all were slaughtered and frozen at home. In later life beekeeping was added to the skills.

They tried their hand at having a Holstein dairy cow. Even with cottage cheese hanging from the rafters and the little pasteurizer working night and day they could not convert the gallons of milk dispensed daily. In a short time the cow went back to the neighbor's farm from which it came. The goat brought on to mow the grass had no interest in that task and soon found its way back to it place of origin.

In the basement, shelves were lined with home canned items, tomatoes from the garden and peaches and pears bought in lugs from the market.

The day the freezer arrived was a big event. It was huge, a commercial grade apparently. One has to wonder how it made it to the basement.

It was from that point on the woman's domain. It was filled with produce and meat they raised together but once it entered the upright it was mostly her realm. The ritual of defrosting it was normally timed just prior to the slaughter of a steer so there was room for the next year's food supply.

I thought about all these things as we removed the items the couple had so preciously planted, watered, raised, harvested, measured and sealed to be used another day. Those days never came for a variety of reasons. One is the concept of out of sight out of mind, the other is the generous nature of a person, who was committed to the success of the local grade school and lastly is memory loss.

The woman's memory loss was recorded in the treasures and dates found in the upright. At one point, I contemplated reaching for my camera to document the carefully dated and vacuumed sealed items but thought better of it.

While the couple still has a large garden and she works hours each day weeding her flower beds and their vegetable garden, the upright needed to defrost one last time. With a little help she will probably freeze a few beans this year. The new potatoes are wonderful and the squash is blooming.

Independent living was truly good for this couple's soul. They are often found sitting on a bench in the sun looking out over the yard which they transformed with over six decades of loving care and work. A rarity in these times.

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