One of the things that can happen as you get older is you tend to keep things past their expiration date. I know this because as my parents got older my sister-in-law made a name for herself by going through Mom’s refrigerator and throwing out things that were past their ‘best if used by’ dates. It got me to thinking that there were probably things in our refrigerator that should be thrown out, but back then I didn’t have the time or energy or permission to look. Besides how old does a dill pickle have to be before you can’t eat it? I mean, they last forever in that brine, right?The years went by and all of a sudden I began to notice there were things in our refrigerator that were way past their ‘best if used by’ dates. One day I was going through the refrigerator throwing out a few leftovers that didn’t really have a printed expiration date on them but I could tell by the mold and or the smell that I needed to throw them out. As I was cleaning up I started looking at bottles of salad dressing, barbecue sauce and funky looking grape jelly jars that were always in the way and never being used.

Expired food investigations
Expired food investigations
When my wife got home I had her sit down with a cup of coffee and then we had a ‘talk’. “Honey,” I asked ever so gently, “Can I throw out that bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s Brown Sugar barbecue sauce? Its two years past its expiration date. And we don’t even use it.”Tears begin to fill my wife’s eyes as she set her coffee cup down. “But that’s my son’s favorite! And I’ve been saving it for him when he comes for a visit!” IMG_20150222_114148260“I know,” I nodded, but he moved out over three years ago and no one has used that barbecue sauce since. And…it’s always in the way when I want to get to the orange juice. Sometimes I, ahem, knock it over and I have to bend over and pick it up off the floor. I just hate that.”“I just hate to let it go.” My wife said and then after a pause she continued. “But if you could wait ‘til I’m at work maybe it’ll be okay.”IMG_20150222_114128181I nodded again and hesitated.“What? There’s more?”“Yeah, the black olives from a few Thanksgivings back? They’re getting moldy and I threw them in the trash.”Now the tears began to spill down her cheeks. “I think of that Thanksgiving every time I moved the olives around. We had all the kids home then. What about the carton of buttermilk? You didn’t throw that out did you?”“It’s gone, down the drain. It was expired, you know.”“I know…but I made pancakes with my sister and her daughter and little Maddy when they were here just a couple months ago. I wanted to make pancakes one more time and remember all the fun we had. But it was probably too late.” I nodded gravely with her.I took a deep breath. “And I threw out the cauliflower that was in the vegetable crisper. It was starting to smell.”“Oh, that’s okay,” my wife sniffed. “The last time we had cauliflower was last summer when my girlfriend and her husband came and we didn’t have a very good time anyway.”“And underneath was that bag of moldy cheese curds.”“You threw them out too?” she asked with a tremor in her voice.“They had to go. And the raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing, along with that old bottle of extra hot taco sauce and several jars of grape-ish looking jelly.” I let out a long sigh and braced myself.“But the jelly was homemade! My sister gave us that. And you know our baby girl loved that hot taco sauce. And the weekend the girls were here we all had the raspberry vinaigrette on our fruit salads.”“I know, but we haven’t used some of that stuff for years and the taco sauce jar had funny looking fuzzy stuff growing out the lid. Or else a spider was making a cobweb. Either way I just don’t think we should be eating any of it. Or storing it next to stuff we do eat.”“So much. Just gone.” She said again with a quiet voice, “Gone.”“Yes, but come and take a look,” I said with mock enthusiasm as I stood up and walked to the kitchen. I opened the gleaming, spacious-ey looking refrigerator and emulating Vanna White swept my hand across the empty, sparkling shelves.“And see!” I said with excitement. “I can even get to the orange juice, the milk carton and you can get your coffee creamer out all without knocking over the ketchup bottle or anything.”“I suppose,” my wife said. “I just need a minute. It looks…it looks…so clean. And empty. I uh, mean…Good job, I guess.”I watched her sit down and take out her cell phone and a tissue and begin to look at family photos. Then I went to the over-filled trash bag and hoisted the clinking, slimy, smelly mess and began walking towards the door, hoping the trash bag didn’t leak on the way to the dumpster.Later as I was cleaning the rest of the inevitable streaks of spilled goo off the floor I began to ponder. What if I had a ‘best if used by…’ date stamped on the top of my head? And then I went to my Twilight Zone mode:The opening refrigerator door reveals a lighted interior with shelves of people in various shapes and sizes and states of use. Each one has a ‘best if used by’ date stamped clearly on their forehead and some are obviously past due.A woman’s hand runs across their faces and she says, “I really need to clean this out. Some of these people are way past their due date and I’ll never use them again.” The hand stops just as it reaches my face. “And look how old this one is!” The voice exclaims.The hand begins to pick me up off the shelf then stops, “But when I see him I just remember all those good things. Just to look at his old, wrinkly, faded face makes me smile. I hate to toss him out. But he is expired.” The hand moves back.As the door closes we all let out sighs of relief. Reprieved for now, we begin to discuss our ages and usefulness and wonder how long it will be until we are thrown away. One new member says he is glad he’s young and fresh and has such a long time to last yet.“After all,” he brags, “My fresh until date is years in the future.” And the older ones smile sadly and say time goes quickly and soon you too will be expired.And then there’s a fade out.“Oh, look!” my wife exclaims. I see her standing by the refrigerator door. “It’s the pickled okra! Remember?”“Oh, yes. I think.” I scratch my head as I wonder how I missed that jar.“We got these when your brother and his family came and I wanted them all to try them but I forgot to take them out. I think we’ve only eaten a couple.”“Well, maybe you ate them,” I said. “I don’t normally eat pickled okra you know.”“Well,” my lovely wife says as she screws the lid down tightly. “You’re not throwing these out. They’re all I have left.”“Yes, dear,” I say as I note they weren’t in my way when I got the orange juice out.“And we’ll keep them right here, on the top shelf,” she announces. “So we don’t forget that visit.” I sigh as I mentally map out a route to pull the orange juice out from behind the pickled okra jar.thereyougoAnd I begin to realize she’s not talking about expired food, but about cherished memories. And thankfully I also realize that cherished memories never expire. They just fade away beneath the moldy cheese curds of our lives.

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