Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One man's trash...

For the first seven years that we lived in Poland, we lived in a small apartment in a Stalin-era block (a square, gray, concrete building). It was actually (by Polish communist-era standards) a very nice apartment. It was on the ground floor; it had special windows and parquet floors; and the bathroom had been slightly enlarged to allow a washing machine to be placed in it and still leave enough floor space to step into the room. Our landlords themselves had lived there for many, many years (he had been a party-member doctor who enjoyed certain privileges).

When they moved (to a spacious new home just outside Krakow), they left a lot of their belongings behind in the basement storage area connected to the apartment. They rented the apartment for years, and just left those things in the basement, until we asked to use the storage space for ourselves. They kindly came over and retrieved a few things they wanted to keep, and told us we could clean out the rest and dispose of it, thus freeing up the space for our storage.

"The rest" almost defies description, but it was the remnants of a communist-era lifestyle that hoarded and preserved in the face of frequent shortages. For example, there were many sets of never-used enamel cookware. We could only speculate that they had obtained them sometime and kept them to use as gifts. There were shoe-repair tools, including this curious form that we've kept as a door-stopper. There were jars and jars and jars of preserved fruit, some dated as far back as (gulp!) 1969!!!!!

And that's really what my story is about.

We were appalled at the ancient fruit jars and peered through the dusty glass into the interiors, trying to figure out what was in them. There were plums, peaches, cherries, currants, and gooseberries. It all looked dreadful and we couldn't imagine anyone keeping fruit so long. Some of it would have been old when they moved away in the 1980's! Krakovian was all for just tossing everything into the trashbin, but I couldn't bear to have the old jars thrown away. They were old-fashioned, squat jars with glass lids--perfect for canisters or candy jars or even gifts--much too nice to throw away!

I insisted that the jars be emptied, washed, and preserved. With a great deal of distaste, Krakovian agreed, and basement-cleaning day found him opening and dumping jars of ancient and disgusting (to us!) fruit.

Our nosiest, but friendly neighbor saw what he was doing (the basement was a public area, with private storage rooms individually locked). He was aghast that we were throwing away all that perfectly wonderful preserved fruit. Didn't we know it could be made into delicious wine?

No, we didn't, and upon being so informed, we didn't care, either.

But HE cared, and begged to have what we couldn't wait to throw away. He fetched a big kettle, and helped empty the jars into it--all the peaches, pears, and even the unidentifiables into the same pot. He promised to brew the wine and share, but we told him to keep it all for himself. I know he made the wine, and I know he drank it, but I prefer not to think about it too much.

I washed the jars, gave many of them away, filled some with candy for gifts, and kept a few around as receptacles for hot cocoa mix, nuts, and rice.

All in all, it was interesting insight into communist-era life, when nothing was wasted--even 30-year-old jars of fruit--and yet another example of that aphorism, One man's trash is another man's treasure. In the end, nothing went to waste--neither the jars, nor the fruit!


At 4:01 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

I think that's seriously the most interesting blog post I have read this week. Strangest, anyway. :-)

At 4:03 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

P.S. We have Mr. Fixit's grandpa's shoe repair equipment that he brought from Eastern Europe--there are some forms like that too.

At 3:14 PM , Blogger Robin said...

What a neat find. The saving reminds me some of the saving mentality of those that came through the depression here in the US. My grandmother saved all sorts of odd things when she was alive and my husband's Mom is definitely a saver. Of course, some of us are just pack rats...


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