I have always considered myself a purger. I throw out anything that is not nailed down. Clutter does not accumulate on my counters and my closets are tidy. Trash pick-up day is my favorite day of the week and I consider carefully when I make any purchase. Do I really need this? Is there room to store it out of sight? My mother was the same way. As are my two siblings. Then, along came Covid-19 and our family trait reversed. No longer a purger. I have become, to my dismay, a sort of hoarder.
I remember the moment my hoarding tendency began. I have the picture on my phone. It shows empty shelves at the grocery store. Overnight, vast bare spaces appeared where toilet paper, tissues and paper towels belonged. Where, since my earliest childhood memories, those goods stood in solid, reliable lines. I discovered more of the same an aisle over. There were no cleaning supplies. Nor could I buy flour or yeast. My favorite pasta sauce was missing. In an instant of terror, I wondered: Was the same thing happening with wine?
Adding to the surreal vision was the fact that I was masked when I discovered all this. My hands were sticky with sanitizer. I was trying to follow one-way arrows down narrow aisles, and to maintain six-feet of distance from fellow shoppers. This shopping spree was crucial. I would not return for groceries again for at least another week. These factors, combined with a growing anxiety about the future of the world, created my new hoarding trait.
Fast-forward six months into the pandemic. As paper products trickled back to the shelves, I purchased them. If there was a one-per-customer limit, I bought one. Then, I circled back into the store and bought another. I wasn’t alone spinning in and out of the exit. Many fellow shoppers mastered the same technique.
Now, I have enough flour and yeast to open a bakery. If my favorite pasta sauce is looking sparse on grocery shelves, it’s because my pantry is full of jars, cans and bags, a surplus I never would have dreamt of a year ago. I’m feeding three people, but I have enough on hand to nourish my neighborhood. I’m willing to share. If anyone runs short on paper products, one of my formerly tidy closets is as full as a warehouse. I can offer you a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce. You have only to ask.
I’ve known folks who grew up during the Great Depression. They didn’t take affluence for granted. They understood wealth’s fleeting nature — like toilet paper, here one day gone the next. They never forgot the feeling of want, and they wouldn’t risk being caught short again. They saved their money and they stuffed their larders. Can you call them hoarders? Maybe. Is it understandable? I believe so.
The Irish use the word ‘mean’ to describe someone who is stingy. Over the years, I’ve seen some of my Irish ancestors in that light, wasting not and cautious with dinner portions. I understand better now. My forerunners lived through famine. They knew crops could fail, food could disappear and children could go hungry. What they discovered generations ago, we’re experiencing now. These are hard times that change us. Like the survivors of the Great Depression and the Irish Famine, we each meet challenges in a different way.
I continue to volunteer once a week at our church food pantry. I’m struck by the community’s need and impressed by our citizens’ generosity. Historically, hunger has been a force that separates the haves from the have-nots. Hunger can also unite us.
Right now, our church pantry has adequate amounts to meet the requirements of our customers. Our nation’s workforce is still healthy, able to manufacture and move product. Should this change, I know I’ll have to dig into my own pantry and pass on some of the goods I’ve been fortunate enough to accumulate. That dystopian notion is unnerving.
As for the wine question, blessedly a shortage did not happen. My favorite red has been available throughout the crisis. I enthusiastically agree that liquor stores are vital services. They are as necessary as paper goods, as pasta sauce and as caring for family, friends and strangers. And yes, I’m not above hoarding a case or two of wine.