How a Freezer Created Cherished Family Memories

BY SHARON HUNT

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“The freezer is big enough to hide a body in and still have plenty of room for your father’s cooking,” Mom announced when the appliance arrived. Laughing at our shared wickedness, we watched the Sears men unload it from the truck. Our neighbour Mr. Leckie leaned over the fence and whistled. “That’s a beauty, Joan,” he said before wandering back into his house.

And it was a beauty, big and white, gleaming under plastic and, yes, truly big enough to hide a fair-sized body, with plenty of room for food, too. We had too much imagination, Mom and I, devouring murder mysteries in print and on television, so it was no surprise we thought such a thing when we saw the freezer.

If the Sears men heard Mom’s comment they didn’t acknowledge it, too focused on the job at hand to worry about whether they were making a delivery to a homicidal maniac. They manoeuvred the chest freezer onto a dolly and down the ramp, then pushed it the few feet to the back step of our house. There they paused to plot out how they would get the big beauty through the door, turn it 90 degrees, carry it down the narrow stairs, and turn it 90 degrees again before setting it in the space awaiting it.

I quickly decided it was impossible. They will return the freezer to the store, I thought, or, worse still, leave it in the garage where my friends will see it and… I’ll be so humiliated I’ll want someone to kill me and hide me under casseroles.

Sensing the catastrophe I was cooking up, Mom nudged me and said, “These men are professionals. It will be fine,” and, of course, it was. They got the freezer to its destination, unwrapped and plugged it in, checked for scratches and dents, and then opened the lid so the four of us could listen to the melodic sound of humming, signalling all was well. 

The freezer was ready to use. And use it, we did. Through successive springs, summers, and falls, Dad stocked and, in the winter, I plundered. 

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Since I was the first one home in the afternoons (Mom had taken a job outside the house when I was a teenager), I’d stand in front of the raised door, peering down and deciding what to take out for dinner. Pushing aside this container and pulling away that one, I would eventually find something that looked good. 

Of course, whatever I chose tasted good, too, because Dad was the best cook, having taken to the stove when he was a boy to help his family during his mother’s long confinement to bed. Like he had as a boy, he made hearty winter foods for us: cabbage rolls, chicken pot pies, beef stew, and turkey casseroles, to name a few. He’d grown to love lasagna, dense with meat and cheese, and added that to the rotation, as well. 

Because of the size of the freezer, he cooked in quantities large enough to feed an army, fuelled by the abundance from his garden, and then divided things into Pyrex dishes that served four. I labelled everything (his handwriting befitted a doctor) and although I was instructed to choose things by date, I would bypass that in favour of what appealed to me on any given day. 

One January, we ate cabbage rolls for six days running. Another time, my father sighed loudly as he stepped into the back porch. “Sharon, not beef stew again.” We’d been eating it since Monday and it was now Friday.

After that meal, he went downstairs and rearranged the freezer by dish, not date – all cabbage rolls here, to the left, all chicken pot pies there, to the right, the other meals lined up in between. When he was finished, he stood me in front of the freezer and said, “From left to right, you go from left to right.” 

Only then could I start from the left again.

Although this seemed too rigid for me, dinners went much smoother after that. Variety was as important as having something substantial in our stomachs and the winter months clicked away, from left to right, until one winter a water main broke, filling our basement with four feet of water before it was finally turned off. 

After the water was pumped out, we surveyed the damage. The freezer was dead and all the food inside ruined. Dad and I emptied cabbage rolls and chicken pot pies, beef stew and turkey casseroles into garbage bags, mourning the waste of all that food. 

Although the insurance money would pay for a new freezer, Dad, whose job it was to keep huge machines running in a local factory, decided to fix our old freezer. Afterwards, it no longer hummed quietly. There was a decided rattle, as well, but it worked and he set about restocking.

The freezer charted the remaining years that our family of four was a small, tight unit. When it arrived, I had just started high school and my sister had years of grade school ahead of her. While the freezer was filled with meals for four, we were still “one.” When Dad started making smaller portions and not filling the freezer as full anymore, the inevitable loosening of the ties was underway.

It gave its last rattling gasps one Saturday, having lasted years longer than the warranty guaranteed. Two men took it away and Dad contented himself with the freezer at the top of the refrigerator; it was big enough for Mom and him.

For years, I contented myself with the freezer at the top of the refrigerator, too, but during the long winter months, I often ran out of prepared dishes to put in the oven at the end of a long day. Now, I’ve rearranged my kitchen to free up a space for a freezer. Although it won’t be big enough to hide a body in, I will fill it with winter meals and remember to go from left to right.

In addition to writing about food for publications such as Edible Toronto, Sharon Hunt writes mystery stories with bodies (so far, none hidden in a freezer). She was a finalist for two major mystery awards with her first story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; other stories are forthcoming in a variety of publications.   

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