by Thad DeVassie
Arriving at a time my father isn’t home, I decide to clean out the refrigerator – not in the same way I did as a teenager with a voracious appetite, but as the adult child concerned for his aging parent, alone. I go about my business, tossing out salad dressings, things that appear overly pickled, and bags of store-bought shredded cheese nearly a decade old, barely showing the white, fleck-fuzz of decay. Half of the items resting at a comfortable thirty-seven degrees have to go.
When he arrives home after visiting mom at the memory care facility, I am scraping down his web-infested grill, prepping it for its first firing of the season in late August. I cook up hamburgers and few hot dogs he can have as leftovers. I bring the plate of steaming meat back inside where I see him rummaging through the refrigerator, mumbling to himself. I know what he is after – the four-year-old mayonnaise that I rinsed down the drain earlier. But he finds an acceptable alternative: a squat-sized container of Miracle Whip that I somehow overlooked.
He gasps, presumably hit with the pungent smells of expiration, and I feel a hint of righteousness bubbling up inside of me in support of my afternoon’s work. I begin prepping a short lecture in my mind about not letting food and condiments spoil and tossing them if they do.
But instead he pulls a neatly folded rag out of the jar. I look on, perplexed. He explains how he painted the inside of the canister to make it look like the natural contents and to conceal the purple-colored Crown Royal sleeve that feels entirely too luxurious to be jammed into a refrigerated jar. When he unrolls the velvety rag, my mother’s wedding ring and all of her precious pieces of jewelry are on display. For a moment he plays the role of expert gemologist while I look on in disbelief at all that sparkles.
I hid these from your mother. She was hiding anything of value to her throughout the house; I didn’t want to lose them. It made sense in a kind of twisted logic I would expect from my nine-year-old. He must have concocted this capsule a year or more ago, before her memory and antics became a toll too much for him to handle on his own.
It’s his relief in finding them, believing they were lost forever, that I find so jarring. Here is a man who painted the inside of a container to the match the exact egg white and mustardy hue of Miracle Whip, yet couldn’t remember doing so. How could someone be unable to extract from their mind the peculiarity of applying the perfect tint of paint to the oddest of canvases?
Then, in my own head, I hear a different kind of lecture: Forget it.
Originally published in Autofocus. Click here to read Thad DeVassie’s reflection on writing about caregiving.
Thad DeVassie is a multi-genre writer and fine art painter who creates from the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of three chapbooks, including SPLENDID IRRATIONALITIES, which was awarded the James Tate International Poetry Prize in 2020. Find more of his words and paintings at www.thaddevassie.com.