There are a few things that come to mind when I think of growing up in the Midwest. Cicadas and corn in the summer. Pumpkin patches and apple picking in the fall, half the class being absent on the first day of deer hunting season. Snow drifts and being off school in the winter. The sub-freezing temperatures, the farm kids who wait for the buses being at risk for hypothermia. And in the spring, daffodils and jonquils, Easter pictures underneath the crabapple tree, squeezed together shoulder to shoulder.
I also think about the practicalities of being working class, even though that’s not what we thought of ourselves. Of being rural. Of living with and through 4 seasons. Of the weekly protestant sermons to keep your chin up and push through at all costs. Of making ends meet. Of repurposing because that was the obvious thing to do.
But back to the practicalities.
Say it’s time to upgrade your refrigerator. Maybe it’s Christmas time and a new fridge is a perfect gift for your loved one, or maybe the Sears’ layaway program had a sweet deal. But what do you do with the old fridge? Get rid of it?
No, of course not. Why would you do something like that? It works good enough, just a little more chugging than it had when it first arrived.
Just put it in the basement, cellar or garage. Where it can be an overflow storage. Right next to the deep freeze.
The deep freeze. Forget the sparklers and parades and neatly planted corn that should be knee high by the fourth of July. Forget the country cruises with a natty light in hand, waiting for the cows to cross the road. Forget all the yearning to bust out of there to meet the big bad world on its own terms.
It’s the deep freeze that might be most iconic for me, my childhood, those four seasons, that town with no stoplights.
When we moved into this house on South Van Ness over 10 years ago, my parents were back and forth from the Midwest to San Francisco, helping us get settled. It was at that point that my first breast cancer diagnosis rippled tidal waves through our lives. So, my parents kept coming. And busying themselves with all types of projects – painting pantry shelves, hanging pictures, staining the deck, building a bench, even – all to focus on what’s in front of us, what we can do, what we can do with our hands while so much is out of our hands.
It was one night when some generous friend dropped off an extra lasagna for the freezer that my dad, after watching me rearrange things to try and squish the casserole dish in, declared: “you need a deep freeze.” It was less than one hour later — after dad went to it measuring the width of the cellar door, discussing with my husband Mike how a dolly could get a large appliance down the steep stairs, envisioning how a platform could quickly be fashioned to keep anything off the cement floor — that the Lowes over on Bayshore had a major purchase, to be delivered the next day. My dad was a man of action.
Mike was a little more flummoxed about this whole thing – growing up in a city where big cuts of meat weren’t stored for the future or the bounties of summer fruits tucked away to enjoy in the winter or there weren’t Italians in the midst who made extra food because we were always planning our next meal anyway. He found it perplexing that my family of 5, now dispersed into 4 households, already had 10 refrigerators and deep freezes between us (no, I’m not willing to certify the energy star on each of these). But like many things an in-law does, landing in this foreign and mysterious micro-culture called a family, he largely held his tongue.
Until this night. Some few eye rolls and questions and jokes, a valiant attempt to stop this juggernaut.
But dammit, Reno Calcari could not be stopped. His little girl needed a deep freeze. That would be THE thing to fix this whole mess. That lasagna needed a place to rest.
And rest it did.
The delivery men had some eye rolls too, some huffs and puffs in getting the deep freeze into the narrow and short cellar, being overseen by dad. He was giddy in how this whole plan was coming together.
A decade later, the deep freeze is still going strong. It’s five glorious shelves of storage, plus racks built into the door. It has spring-picked strawberries and pitted cherries, washed and ready. Hand-held apple pies. Smoothies waiting to be unthawed. Soups and stews saved for an easy weeknight meal. A few leftover lamb and pomegranate fatayer from the Arab bakery up on Mission Street. Cubes of pistachio pesto. And blue cornmeal pancakes.
Back six years ago when my friend Julie’s daughter Danika was born, Julie had a copy of our gate key. A friend also with a double mastectomy and needing to feed her new baby, she was searching for a place to store all the donated breast milk. We could offer her a solution. A needle in the haystack of city apartment freezers.
And for the past year, it’s also held breast milk. Hundreds and hundreds of ounces of breast milk from 23 donors throughout the city. For our daughter. Who never met her grandfather.
He would love it. He would love her.
I always make sure to keep a lasagna in there too. It’s what my dad would have wanted.