The cupboard

(For American readers, larder = pantry).

Mum christened our house ‘Kia Nyama’, which means ‘house of meat’ in Shona. Our friends assumed that ‘nyama’ was spelt ‘yummer’ and thought it most accurate. It was the house of food.

On a sunny day (because childhood is perpetually sunny), we three kids would tumble in from the garden, shake off the mud, and skid across the floor to the larder. The door was graffitied with our gallery of artwork, happy splodges of chaos and colour. We would open it with pride when friends came round and start foraging for goodies.

The larder door was always slightly ajar; it was too full to close.

There were the boxes of cereal on the left: cartoon tiger cereals with plastic treasures to be found if you plunged your fist in deep and rummaged around; bran-based cardboard flakes too, muesli and granola and sometimes duplicates if we were running low on one brand. We’d sit at the table with a wall of these cereals in the middle, mixing the gloriously sugary combination in our bowls, slurping down the milk, sneaking seconds or sometimes thirds. We’d run back and stuff the boxes all back in the larder before brushing our teeth in time for school. (There always seemed to be one box too many to fit on the shelf.)

If you could reach up into the cavern, there were jars: jams, sauces, ketchups, honey – both runny and set, pickled things, syrups; on the door, three boxes of foil and plastic bags all bundled into each other; traffic-light jellies if you knew where to look, hidden behind the packets of soup and spare herbs. Once, we discovered there was a small window on the left, completely concealed by the boxes of biscuits and cereal bars.

Mum kept the sweetie jar there too, full of mini-size treats. Each Saturday, we would come to the sweet shop, hand over our imaginary 20p and select our favourites: white cylinders you could pretend were cigarettes, chewy pink fruit delights, chocolate-caramel mouthfuls. We gathered the loot on our laps and sat approximately 10cm away from the television while a cartoon cat chased a cartoon mouse at high-speed and top volume, laughing on cue as the clarinet squealed and cymbals crashed and the cat got a rake in his face.

On the larder floor was the big stuff: fire-hyrdant sized bottles of lemon and orange fizz, packets of dog food that we dragged across the floor. Once, when my sister was little and the house had gone suspiciously quiet, my Mum walked in to find her hiding in the bottom of the larder, her mouth smeared a guilty brown, her hand emerging from the packet of dog chocolates, fist full. The ingredients listed on the packet included stuff like fish bones, but my sister thought them delicious.


The ghosts of hunger in my mum’s childhood floated somewhere at the back of the third shelf up, four tins deep, but we never spotted them. We never even smelt them.

Like Roman soldiers we charged in: we saw, we grabbed, we ate.

Joining with Amber on Mondays for concretewords, where we practise writing by communicating the abstract through concrete things – a horse, a book, stairs – and today the cupboard. These concrete words posts have led me on a journey through childhood and nostalgia and spiritual maturity – I write and that’s what comes out at the moment.

Amber is taking a break from concrete words and I will be hosting for the next little bit. The prompts for the next few weeks are as follows:
Feb 18 – the cupboard
Feb 25 – the instrument
Mar 4 – the dress
Mar 11 – the bottle

Won’t you join me? Link your post below and read and comment on others’ abstractions on the cupboard.

Over to you:

  • Can you relate to realising you took something for granted as a child?

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26 Responses to The cupboard

  1. Janice 19th February, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    This was great. I loved the “The ghosts of hunger in my mum’s childhood floated somewhere at the back of the third shelf up, four tins deep, but we never spotted them. We never even smelt them.”

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Thank you…! (That was my fave bit too)

  2. Mark Allman 18th February, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    I remember growing up on a farm and we would have fresh milk which was great until the cows got into eating some wild onions and we would skip milk for a couple of days. We qualified for free meals at school but my brothers and sisters refused to take them out of pride. It bothers me that we we so poor we qualified for free meals but refused them out of foolish pride and ended up making it tougher on my mom. I remember my mom making chef boyardee pizza from a box and how that was like a heaven on earth meal for us. The five of us siblings would fight for our share of that pizza. Eating out for us was on a picnic table. I thank my mom that I do not ever remember being hungry. For treats she would make some great snow ice creme and she made great fudge too.

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Wow. Such rich experiences being shared in the comments section! Thank you for this snapshot of your childhood, Mark. (And I would never have guessed that cows eating onions would make such a difference!)

  3. Brandee 18th February, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Amazing piece. Sounds a little like our pantry, at least the overflowingness. We have less junk since my husband’s gastric bypass last July.

    I wondered, as a kid, about those families who ALWAYS had the good food. My dad got paid once a month for a hunk of my childhood, and my mom filled two grocery carts just after payday. She froze extra milk and bread, but it was bare bones by the end of the month: no potato chip or grape to be found.

    Your post is amazingly detailed! You nailed the concrete words and make me want to go back and try again. Thanks for hosting; I really like the challenge! 🙂

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      Wow. This is really sobering to me, how many there are who really do struggle to put food on the table. (And even as I write this I feel horribly middle class…)

      And thanks for your encouragement – I’m so glad I inspired you to do your post!

  4. Liz Eph 18th February, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Great punch line Tanya 🙂 Reminds me of my sister’s greyhound that left alone in a dog proofed house managed to get onto the kitchen counter and reach the top of the cupboard, left the chicken that was for tea and took the dog biscuits lol

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 8:44 am #

      What a courteous dog! 🙂 Thanks, Liz.

  5. Mia 18th February, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Dear Tanya
    Thank you for standing in for Amber. I had such a good laugh reading your post. It reminded me of my childhood when my mother locked the cupboard with all the sweet treats, biscuits and other yummy things. My brother and I just waited until she went out, then we would unscrew the doors from its hinges, having a wonderful treat and some extra for later and screw the doors back on again. My mom was always baffled why the cupboard always seemed so empty until the day arrived that she caught us in action.
    Much love

    • Liz Eph 18th February, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

      Haha, what a pair of monkeys !!

      • Brandee 18th February, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

        Clever kids! Did she whoop you when she caught you?

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Haha!! That is genius!

  6. Karmen White 18th February, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    The Cupboard

    Stomach growling I run to the kitchen cupboard. I am famished after a hard days play. I live on an army barracks and spend long summer days playing with the rest of the neighbourhood kids. I love living here in Germany, where the winters are cold and snow is guaranteed, but, summers are the best! Warm sunny days spent playing with the other ‘army brats’, as we are known. I pulled open the pantry door to find…..dust bunnies.

    I scramble around the half empty bags of flour and soup tins, there has to be something to eat in here! I pull out the bread bag – one slice left and nothing to go on it, but I’m starving, so I don’t give up, I keep searching. Pulling out a bottle of something that looks like it might have potential I read the label, Vinegar. I pour lashings of the stuff on the tired looking piece of bread and start cramming it in my mouth. Its disgusting, but it will take away the hunger pains.
    Stomached quietened, I head back out to play, without a care in the world. I never even pause to wonder why the cupboard is empty! When Dads away at sea, its always empty. I usually try to blag dinner at a friend’s house, but today I had no offers to go for lunch so vinegar and bread it was.

    Food is taken for granted at my friends houses; I am always amazed at the amount of food stuffed into their larders. Amazed at the way their Mothers insist they eat three meals a day. Some even take the time to cook lunch for them! As a 7 year old child I never question why my cupboard is empty and theirs is full, its just a part of my life, hunger comes with the territory round here. My four siblings and I eat what we can when we can. It’s a first come first served basis and a dog eat dog mind-set.

    At the end of fun day I walk home wondering how long Dad will be gone for? I hope its not too long this time. I am tired of being hungry, tired of listening to my Mum cry at night, and tired of her not caring about food for herself, or for us. See, when Dad leaves, Mum leaves too in a way, the bare dusty food cupboard represents my Mums mood when Dad goes away.

    • Liz Eph 18th February, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      Oh, this is so powerful. What a vivid image to explain that intangible reality. Very tough life. (I knew families like that in Grimsby, but many of the women instead of grieving all the time became hardened. Then suddenly the world was stood on it’s head after the cod wars and they all had to adapt to something else again.) xx

      • Brandee 18th February, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

        So sad. I’m glad you felt it only halfway, at the time.

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 8:42 am #

      Oh Karmen, this was so powerful. You tell it so simply, and somehow it makes it pack more of a punch. I found myself crying when I got to the word vinegar, and again in the last line, the empty cupboard being like your mum’s state. It is hard to go without food, hard to go without parents fully being present. (Hard is a bit of an understatement!)

      You are a writer, friend. 🙂

  7. Jillie 18th February, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    This isn’t a very happy answer to your question of recalling anything I took for granted as a child, but here goes anyway. The biggest thing I ‘assumed’ (or took for granted), would always be there as a child…..was my father. I went through my childhood assuming we were like every other family, and that my parents’ occasional ‘bruhaws’ didn’t really mean we were falling apart at the seams. I was oblivious to ‘the signs’. My siblings and I went about our days mostly taking care of ourselves, while unbeknownst to us, our parents sunk deeper and deeper into their own personal battle with each other. Then came the day our father left us. And shortly thereafter, our mother died of a broken heart. All this, while we blissfully thought everything was normal and would work itself out. We never suspected our life would turn out this way! I know that I learned not to assume that a marriage certificate guaranteed anything. Commitment and ‘Covenant’ must go much deeper.

    • Liz Eph 18th February, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      I think children are built to believe the best – it’s a clever mechanism for holding together a fragile world with sticky tape if necessary just long enough to fit in as much growing up as possible before being hit with the home truths. It’s also a tribute to both your parents that they managed to keep so much from you for so long. but like you say “Commitment and ‘Covenant’ must go much deeper”

    • Tanya 19th February, 2013 at 8:38 am #

      Oh Jillie – this is really sad. It makes me so glad for my parents – I take their marriage for granted, I do. And I agree with Liz, that children are programmed to believe the best. We believe our parents will stay together because that is the best way of things, it is as God intended. Children are always hovering halfway between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, seeing all that is good and not yet coming to terms with the brokenness of this world.

      And I like what you say about commitment and covenant too- covenant sounds such a deep and precious word, I think.


  1. Learning {one day at a time} » Blog Archive » This Cupboard {and these precious gifts} - 18th February, 2013

    […] with Amber and Tanya for #concretewords – communicating the abstract through solid […]

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