Mandatory to my mama's generation was the ownership of a deep freezer and a sewing machine. These, remember, were people who believed in self-reliance and independence.
You grew what you ate, you froze or canned it, and you sewed what you wore.
To demonstrate my mama's solemn oath to independence, she owned two sewing machines and two freezers.
"Why?" I once asked.
"Because, if one gives out, I got a back-up."
Well, one of the freezers - a good ol' Frigidaire - is well over 50 years old. A long time ago, when the white, chest freezer began to show extreme signs of rust, Mama spray-painted it black. Then, when the black began to rust, she took blue gingham, checked, contact paper and pasted it all around the body. Mama was thrifty as well as clever.
"Smartest woman I've ever known," Rodney, my brother-in-law, often said.
The ugly freezer, called the "old one," sits across the utility room from the "new one," which is young at 40 years old. And the old one still works. Which is the problem.
"Mama, that old freezer is eating up your power," I'd been telling her for two years before she died. "What do you need two freezers for?"
"What about if hard times come and I need somethin' to eat?" She set her jaw, and that's when I knew she'd die with two freezers, which, of course, is exactly what she did.
Now, I'm almost as thrifty as Mama, though not to the extreme where I go to a restaurant and take home all the free bread they'll give me. Still, when the power bill at Mama's house became my responsibility to pay, that's when I became very interested in the electricity liability of the old freezer.
The day that our electricity bills came and mine was one dollar cheaper than Mama's was the day I decided something had to be done. After all, my house is twice as big as Mama's and I actually live there. Mama's house was empty.
"I'm cleaning out that old freezer and unplugging it," I told my sister. "What's good, I'll move into the new freezer."
First of all, Mama apparently never threw out a margarine tub. Instead, she cooked something, put it in the tub and put it in the freezer. You wouldn't want a perfectly good butter tub to go to waste, would you? She marked everything by putting a piece of masking tape across the lid and identifying it with: Fried Squash, '01. I found many tubs and freezer bags that had been in there for 10 to 15 years.
Good heavens, you have never seen so many containers of homemade vegetable soup and collard greens. If I had $5 for every package I found, I could pay Mama's power bill for years.
Why do you suppose, I asked myself, she didn't eat some of this soup or collard greens instead of always making fresh batches and putting them in the freezer?
The answer is simple. Mama was a child of the Great Depression, an economic downturn that had nearly smothered the Southern mountains. She had known hard times and wanted to make sure she always had something to eat, even if it was 15 years old.
But you got to hand it to that old Frigidaire freezer. It's outlived five stoves, four washing machines, three microwaves and two refrigerators. Plus who knows how much longer it'll continue to run. I wonder if the Frigidaire folks have a museum and would like to have it back.
After all, with its gingham, checked contact paper decoration over black spray paint, it would certainly be the most unique one in their collection.
And, it still works.
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