Thank Goodness for Foil and Plastic Bags and the Truth of Love.


A couple of years ago, when my folks were in Hawaii for their annual visit to my house, I griped about the butter left out to get soft in the tropical air.  This time, it’s plastic bags.

My folks were born in the post-Depression South and came of age during WWII. Conservation of resources is in their DNA.

My mother squirrels away tinfoil like nuts for winter. As if, once gone, she will not be able to sustain life by wrapping her rations in it, saving them from inevitable spoiling. The silvery pieces can become so thin and cracked, one might think a new breed of aluminum-eating moths had flown into her kitchen junk drawer.

There are so many funny quirks that my parents have, and most I laugh at.  But this year, the plastic bags got under my skin.

On the first day after their arrival, the leftover hardboiled egg and airline crackers were lifted out of my mother’s carry-on and ceremoniously unwrapped, re-wrapped and placed in the refrigerator.

Several plastic bags remained on the counter after the ritual. These bags had already lived a few lives. One, stamped with the logo of their Atlanta neighborhood health food store, was so rumpled and its interior so dusty that I imagined it harbored a wild spice from the Andes and must be so precious it held the secrets of alchemy.

I left the bags on the counters. I’m an only child in my forties, and figured out about a decade ago that my parental visits are much happier if I fail to exert my household rules on my octogenarian parents. If I recede and let them have run of the kitchen, my bliss stays intact until I venture back in and reclaim my hearth the day they leave.

Three days later, there were different plastic bags on the counters. I counted six. One was a highly precious Ziploc with a slider. Something so substantial could never be considered disposable to Mom. Even with the slick of some kind of oil on its insides, I knew the bag would not be thrown away.

Right as rain, the next morning it was drying inside out and upside down in the dish drying rack, perched on also newly-washed pots, pans and a bit of tinfoil. I laughed.

I laughed because it amused me. I laughed because I’m proud that my parents are of the temperament that everything is sacred, even plastic bags. I laughed that they were recyclers before it was even a thing. I laughed because they had surpassed reasonable thrift and entered the hoarder’s level of economy. I laughed because it was predictable, a deep comfort in this unpredictable world.

Later that morning, as we enjoyed a lazy second cup of coffee and conversation in my backyard, I mused that people really do become weirder as they age. I grew up respecting, even revering, my elders. I was taught that they held the secrets to life. The knowledge, the wisdom. But as I went out into the world on my own, and especially after I had a child, I began to think just the opposite. People are nuts.

And in the absence of love or faith or something to ground them, many people become rutted in their patterns and oblivious to the world around them. They get crazier as they age. Babies, on the other hand, are wise, observant and in a constant state of wonder.

Toddlers and young children are sages, so close to the origin of life and spirit, experiencing things as they come and reacting on the spot. But as they age and ego takes hold, they bend, twist and morph themselves to become what other people (other egos) want them to be.

They learn safe ways of being, manipulating others to get their needs met, protecting their fragile essence beneath layers of hardened bark and knots. They often lose the very essence of themselves. I did.

Once set on a course in life, adults take on beliefs and patterns that dictate their behaviors, actions and reactions. The predictable washing of plastic bags. Most adults are no longer tapped into the fertile soil of birth. They’ve grown up toward sunlight only to find their cores are rigid. Rigid branches breaking under questioned authority and doubt.

Many fail to feel the presence of life. Afraid to trust in the flow of life. I know because this was me. I grew up rinsing tinfoil, and never thought about why or if I wanted to or not. In my twenties, I stopped rinsing tinfoil because I wanted to rebel from my mother. Finally, one day I stopped and thought. I thought about whether it was important to me to rinse tinfoil or not.

Is it important to honor my mother by blindly accepting her rituals? Or am I allowed to choose my own inherent path? Do I rinse the foil or not? I do not. Instead, I recycle it. Every corner of the sexy wrap gets balled up in a malleable mound and tossed in the recycle bin at my house. This feels good to me. It is honoring the teaching of my parents while also honoring the tidiness of my own kitchen.

I do not save plastic bags, nor do I recycle them, and now I have occasion to question why. Why don’t I rinse and reuse plastic bags? I used to save the grocery store plastic bags so generously donned on me at checkout to shovel litter-covered cat poop into. But my state, heroically, banned these bags about a year ago.

So now the only plastic bags in my life are the really precious purchased ones. The slippery squeeze locked ones. The sturdy freezer variety with a toggle slider… an actual separate closing mechanism! The thin sandwich baggies with the tuck-in flap. With this visit of my own familial elders, I’m questioning the bags that I so unceremoniously throw away every day.

At first I feel guilty. This is my automatic pattern. Guilt. Rooted somewhere deep in my psyche, and not at all connected to any actual actions of mine in this incarnation. Guilt. The creeping rot that grows up from the roots and infests my so beautifully nurtured flowers and fruit. Guilt. The “I’m not good enough,” “someone else should tell me what to do,” “I can’t possibly be the adult here” dis-ease of the mind.

I’ve become conscious enough to stop the guilt from growing past my knees. I banish it with weed-killer and move on.

The next thought is disdain. I’m super annoyed that the baggies are strewn all over my newly renovated kitchen. My elegant grey quartz counter tops are barely visible beneath the explosion of stuff my folks brought in. The tropical fruits they want to try, piled high on a platter and collecting fruit flies. The coffee grounds gritty across the rinse board of the sink because they can’t see to wipe it up.

The cat hair on the corner, because we all love kitties and letting them languor at a good petting height on the counter is a family indulgence. The stack of mail that I can’t get to, because I’m too busy entertaining and working and raising my kid and playing referee between my folks and my kid and my fiancé, and the list goes on.

The last thought is love.

I love my parents, and I want them around as long as possible to soil my kitchen for 10 days every few months. I love them, and I want them to unravel their stories. Their patterns. Their weirdness. I love them, and I want them around to annoy my tween daughter.

I want them to fall asleep early and nap twice each day and have these energetic, adventurous bursts in between like the day we took them out fishing on my sweetie’s boat and it rained on us and Mom barfed but ended up driving the boat and loving every nauseous minute of seeing gushing waterfalls from the sea. A vantage point never viewed from land and only available in torrents of cool, Hawaiian rain.

Dad caught an Aku, a type of tuna, and we all marveled together. It was a memory made. When we got home and cleaned the fish, all those saved plastic bags sure made it easy to freeze some, eat some and put some in the fridge.

Wisdom seems bookended on each side of life.

Young and old. I’m in the wobbly middle.

Thank goodness for butter and foil and plastic bags and the truth of love. There’s really nothing else that matters.


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Jessica Gauthier

Jessica Gauthier

Jessica Gauthieris gung ho, and though she may not embrace every adventure with lust, she goes for them all. Whether joining a fledgling non-profit Board of Directors, traveling to foreign countries with limited budget, renovating a 1930′s plantation cottage or moving step by step West across the world, Jessica knows no No. She says Yes to what makes her heart sing and she writes about it in hopes that you will too. It was her move to Hawaii in 2005 that catapulted her creative writing and also her awareness of her powers to create her life. Hawaii Island has a way of burning up everything in your life that you thought was essential and leaves you with what really is. With love and health and the Aloha Spirit, Jessica will continue to expose her heart through her stories and welcomes her readers into the world through her eyes. E Komo Mai!
Jessica Gauthier

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