Remnants of the Past

It was like coming across something significant on an archeological dig, that’s how this morning’s discovery felt. I was cleaning out the food cupboard where all the baking needs and oils and such are stored. So many packages have passed the expiration date because I rarely cook complicated meals for myself here alone. I make quick things – frozen low-carb pizzas, a week’s worth of taco salad, maybe a meatloaf now and then. And I dine out a lot, either with friends at happy hour or at my local diner where everybody knows my name.

That means the items in this cupboard are things I bought within the past couple of years, but barely used. At least that’s true of the two cupboards I can reach.

Today, I made the woeful decision to clean out whatever is moldering up in the top cupboard, the one I haven’t touched in years. I figured there was probably some almond flour I bought in 2020, or some old mostly full salt canister I bought a couple years ago to fill the shaker with, because I almost never use salt. I thought I’d clean out the old stock and put some small bins on that shelf, with things I use only every couple of months, but in containers that I can reach in the front, so I don’t need a ladder to find the odds and ends I can’t see in the back.

I got out my trusty 2-foot long tongs that I’ve always used to reach things. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I’ve come up with lots of helpful aids since there’s no longer a tall man around the house. I did some great stretching routines up on my tippy toes and pulled down the contents of the shelf one by one. Some of the items were obvious historical relics, but I got my reading glasses and searched each package for the fine print expiration date, just in case. Just as I suspected, everything was old, but I hadn’t expected it all to be THAT old. A package of Lipton onion mix from June 2016? A jar of chicken bouillon cubes from October 2012? A chicken seasoning from August 2014?? The list goes on. I started pulling out more and dumping powders down the sink, tossing the containers into the garbage can.

And then it hit me… Rick died in 2017, so these were all things he bought. I hadn’t inspected that shelf since he (so easily) reached up and stored these foodstuffs there. Yes, a 6’5” man like Rick was even able to SEE what’s on the shelf at nearly eye level. So these were all things he bought for recipes he liked to make. He shopped for these items long, long ago.

And I instantly was saddened by how long he’s been gone, and by the fact that there are so few items left in this house that he touched and used.

Read the rest of the blog at the Hope for Widows Foundation website.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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