Food for Thaw

HANNAH SMITH, who was brought up in the Middle West, now lives in Arcadia,California. She is the author of an amusing autobiography, For Heaven’s Sake (Atlantic-Little, Brown).


SOMETIMESnow I wake up in the middle of the night trembling slightly all over after a dream in which I am trying to tunnel my way through an icy, impervious wall of cobblestones, each pebble of which is roughly the size and shape of a Frozefresh Green Baby Lima Bean.

I never have to rush this nightmare over to my neighborhood psychiatrist, because I can interpret it all too easily myself—this and my other dream: the nocturnal horror in which I find myself buried under a thundering avalanche of hard, flat red bricks, each with the approximate over-all dimensions of a Zero Club Jim Dandy Chip Beefsteak.

But even though I understand and accept the stark significance of these oft-recurring dreams, I usually find it difficult to go back to sleep. I lie there staring broodingly at my husband’s serene, night-shadowed profile, listening to the Stratoliner hum of the ten-foot freezer on the back porch and wondering when someone is going to turn us in for food hoarding.

It is hard to realize that my present nervous state, those dreams, the long convulsive shudders whenever I see a frozen food ad, all began innocently enough with a chance remark I made one day to my husband while I was trying to extricate a forty-pound watermelon from our elderly four-foot refrigerator.

The remark is unimportant to this account except for the fact that it brought forth from my husband the suggestion that has made such a drastic change in our eating and living habits, to say nothing of the effect it has had on our lifelong savings.

“Why,” he asked casually, “don’t we buy a freezer?”

I cradled the cold green form of the melon against my midriff and gleamed across it with the tender, loving warmth of any woman to any husband who suggests buying anything.

“ Why don’t we?” I agreed eagerly. “Get your hat.”

My mind, on the instant, had fled like a homecoming starling to a recent full-page four-color magazine ad I’d seen, captioned “Are You Chained to a Can Opener? Shackled to a Soup Kettle? Be Free — with a Freezer!” The illustration depicted a, carefree sixteen-year-old mother of four coming in from a hard day at golf to lift a complete dinner for six out of the glossy white cubicle in her utility room while beyond, through an open door, her happy family waited smilingly around the dinner table. (Not until much later did I realize that nowhere in the illustration was there so much as a glimpse of the Little Daisy Home Blow Torch that must have been the lady golfer’s chief item of kitchen equipment.)

My husband had read an ad, too. “Turkey dinner for twenty in ten minutes,” he murmured dreamily as we backed out of the garage. “About a six-foot freezer would be nice, don’t you think?”

The appliance salesman was sure we’d never be satisfied with anything less than his ten-foot model. And while, at least in regard to my husband, the salesman was only too right, it was in this decision that lay our downfall.

Perhaps it was because my husband had always prided himself on being a Good Provider. Perhaps it was because he, like Nature, abhorred a vacuum. In any case, from the day the long white box was first installed in our service porch, a great change came over the man I thought I knew so well.

The half dozen boxes of frozen peas, four individual chicken pies, and package of heat-and-eat rolls he started with did, I admitted, look diminutive and distant in the freezer’s frigid fastnesses. I may even have cheered him on when he went back to the market a second and a third time that first afternoon, each trip coming back laden with glaciated groceries.

It was only after the third or fourth day that the first uneasy inkling of what lay ahead reached me. Aghast, I watched as my food budget money for months to come disappeared with snowflake speed and silence into the yawning, insatiable cavern by the back door. Still there were vast arctic stretches untenanted by frozen rock cod or dehydrated orange juice, and still a look of stubborn purpose lingered on my husband’s face.

No farm housewife ever stowed away canned peaches in her cellar, no squirrel ever cached nuts in a hollow tree, and no government official ever shoveled gold bars into Fort Knox with more earnest endeavor than this. Finally, just when I was beginning to wonder if we’d have to put a second mortgage on the house or sell our last two government bonds, the freezer filled up.

Summoned to look, I stood awed and silent beside my helpmeet breathing the frosty air, gazing into our polar pantry.

“Gives you a good feeling, doesn’t it ?” he asked in tones of simple, earthy happiness.

“Lovely,” I said. “I guess I’ll try some of the frozen strawberries for dinner tonight.”

I jumped back just in time to keep the lid from slamming on my fingers, He was staring down at me in unbelieving horror. “You —you were going to use some of this?” he asked, obviously keeping his voice steady with an effort. “Why, I only just now got it filled!”

We’re pretty lucky, I guess, to have that can of soup and those shredded wheat biscuits up in the cupboard.