When I was in sixth grade, I got a job helping the old woman across the street. She’d just broken her arm, and needed someone to clean. Every time I went there, my stomach heaved. The jobs she gave me were all of a particularly disgusting nature. For example, she had me clean the hair catchers in her bathrooms, and I remember pulling up gobs and gobs of hair, gagging all the while. Just thinking about it now turns my stomach.
But that wasn’t the worst of my ordeal at this woman’s house. The worst was the refrigerator. Rotten fruits and vegetables. Fuzzy green unidentified leftovers. Ancient bottles and jars that were long expired or would have been if they had expiration dates. (I think expiration dates on all packaged food came much later.) I got sick every single time I went over there and I wanted to quit, but one of my parents insisted I fulfill my obligation. The other parent, in a rare moment of sticking up for me, argued that I shouldn’t have to do something that made me ill. Odd that I can’t remember which parent wanted me to go and which took my side, but it no longer matters. It was so very long ago.
But what does matter is your refrigerator. Clean it out!!!
I have lived in several different places during the past six months, and one almost universal situation I found is a refrigerator clogged with expired condiments and food long past the stage of edibility. I itched to clean out the refrigerators, but I refrained. Maybe the owners were sentimental about that bottle of Hershey’s syrup that was so old it was as thick as treacle and tasted about the same. Or perhaps they liked the vision of wealth a full refrigerator imparts.
Well, now in this house of horrors, I complained to the owner of having not an inch of space in the refrigerator for any food I might purchase, and she gave me permission to clean the thing out. I didn’t intend to follow through. I’m paying rent so cleaning her part of the house is not my responsibilty. Besides, the refrigerator was so filthy, it looked like a biowarfare experiment gone bad, and I didn’t have the stomach for the task. But for some reason (can’t remember why, and that was only a few hours ago. If the biowarfare experiment was about killing brain cells, it succeeded) I decided to clear out a few expired bottles of . . . I know not what. Three hours later, I had a huge stack of trash bags full of expired and rotten food. (By expired, I mean well past expiration date. Ketchup from 2009, eggs from September 2015, string cheese packets that were as hard as masonite. It took a chisel and lots of hot water to clean the spilled food that had congealed beneath all that detritus. (That is not an exaggeration. I did have to use a chisel.)
I started to deal with the freezer, but lost heart when it took me more than a half an hour to remove a roast that had so much frost, it was spackled to the door shelf. Again that chisel and hot water came in handy.
In the interest of health — yours and mine — I am declaring this International Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day.
I am begging you, please, go clean out your refrigerator. I know you have things in there you have become so accustomed to seeing that you no longer notice them. Or you have bottles of exotic ingredients you have been promising yourself to use for the past ten years. We all have those condiments and rare elements we bought for a recipe, used the requisite one teaspoon, and never got around to making that dish again. If you’re still not convinced of the necessity of cleaning out your refrigerator, ask yourself if you really want some poor woman (maybe your mother or daughter or daughter-in-law, possibly a neighbor, perhaps even a son or husband) throwing up when/if they have clean up if you become sick or incapacitated in any way.
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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)