Frozen in Time

There’s a lot of life in that old freezer.

It’s a chest freezer actually, from the 1960s I think. Dirty white with spots of ancient rust and it makes a horrifying screech when the lid is opened. For decades it sat on the huge back porch of Nannie’s farmhouse, ran perfectly, and never skipped a beat.

When Nannie died, Daddy debated what to do with that old freezer. He feared moving it would cause it to stop running but he hauled it across the field to his own screened porch where it still runs perfectly and never skips a beat. Daddy is gone now too, but the freezer runs on.

That freezer has a lot of life in it, in more ways than one.

Every summer Nannie filled its frosty racks with butter beans and other garden goodies. I’d take the path to her house and hear the familiar screech of the lid as I got to the porch. Nannie would be comically bent over head first in the freezer, digging through frozen packages, surrounded by the cloud of cold “smoke” that puffed out as she stirred the air inside.

Over decades the freezer took on a life of its own and became more than a useful place to store food. It became the focal point of Nannie’s porch with its broad surface that made a handy place to leave things, do things, and grow things.

It was a fine spot for African violets and a Christmas cactus. In early spring Nannie started vegetable seeds in trays and lined them up along the top of the freezer. She’d laugh for causing herself extra work when she had to move them all just to get a package of frozen corn for supper.

A lot of life went on around that freezer.

Nannie kept small weigh scales on the freezer in case someone from church came by to get a pound of snaps. Quart baskets of blackberries we all picked sat on the freezer until someone came to buy them. A random green apple, a forgotten eggplant, or a pie Nannie made and meant to give to a friend might all be on the freezer.

If one aunt had coupons for another aunt, they were left on the freezer. If a visiting friend found a cousin’s toy army man under the swing, it was left on the freezer. If an uncle returned a borrowed tool, it was left on the freezer. If you carried something when you stopped by to see Nannie you could leave it on the freezer. On the way out you just picked it up from the freezer.

I stood at the freezer with my aunt Noody on several Thanksgivings as she cut up the turkey before families arrived. She’d spread the giant bird out on the freezer, plates to the left for light meat, plates to the right for dark. The broad surface made a perfect work area.

Nannie left bags of homemade rolls on the freezer for me to deliver to aunts across the field. On countless summer evenings the freezer held glasses of iced tea, ash trays, and random conversation pieces brought over for a night of family stories on the porch. Sometimes the top of the freezer was cleared, newspaper spread, and a watermelon cut up for whoever happened to be visiting.

A lot of life revolved around that freezer.

Today the old freezer still runs on Daddy’s screened porch. I looked at it a few weeks ago. Nothing sits on top anymore, nothing being done there, nothing growing there as in the old days. I lifted the lid and the familiar screech was as strong as ever, the icy “smoke” still swirled, but the frosty racks were mostly empty.

Mama’s health issues have prevented her from gardening and freezing the summer’s goodies. I saw a few iced over packages labeled in her handwriting, “Corn 2012”, but they’re old and should be thrown away.

For decades that freezer was the accidental center of a lot of what Nannie and her huge extended family did. The conversations it heard, the family meals it held, the cousins, babies, and babies of cousins who wanted a turn sitting on its broad top are too numerous to ponder.

It’s still running, but just like the last few freezer burned packages of corn inside maybe the old chest freezer itself should finally be thrown away. But who could do that? Not me.

There’s a lot of life in that old freezer.

Stuart M. Perkins

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131 Comments

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131 responses to “Frozen in Time

  1. Sounds like a member of the family. You should keep it until it dies… if it ever does.

  2. daniellevann

    It’s true that such seemingly random objects hold so many memories- rendering them priceless.

  3. My great-aunt inherited her parents’ house, including a large freezer of uncertain age. When I was visiting in 1999, the freezer had just died, so she was cleaning it out. She found cans of grape juice concentrate with a coupon on them that had expired in 1964. But we mixed up the juice, and it was still good! 35-year-old grape juice purchased by the great-grandmother I never met!

    That old freezer was an upright model. My great-aunt had replaced it with a chest freezer, but the next time I visited she had a new upright. She explained that she and her husband couldn’t handle having that horizontal surface–they kept piling clutter on it! They’d “had” to donate the chest freezer to the Girl Scouts and start over.

  4. I enjoy your writing so much 🙂 You should write a book if you haven’t already. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. coloursandtextures

    What a lovely story and so well told that I was imagining i was there.

  6. Aw, such a sweet and sweetly-told story… “just” a freezer but with so much life going on around it. I can smell sweet corn cooking, and maybe a tich of that freezer-ice…
    Neither here nor there but just wondering: is Noody short for something? Most of the names I’ve thought of so far sound male, like Newton and Newland. ~ Peri

    • Everyone in the family always called her Noody and I’m not sure why! I know several times one cousin or another would ask but no one seemed to know anymore. Unfortunately, she passed away several years ago and she may have been the only one who could have told us! Thanks for reading my post!

  7. I can tell from the feeling-imbued words of your story that getting rid of that freezer would be just about as tough for you as taking out one’s favorite hunting dog and putting it down to spare it anymore pain from one old-age disease or injury or another. Even though we know it’s probably the kindest thing we could do, we almost inevitably end up having to find someone else to do it for us.It’s just the human condition I guess. Thanks for a great post.

  8. Reminds me of my mom-in-laws old upright freezer in the garage (we’ve lived in her house going on seven years now…) She grew up very poor…and hoarded whatever food she could, regardless of its condition. Unfortunately, it all goes to waste in the end anyways – which drives me nuts!

    When we came into this house, I insisted the few last jars of jam – ages old – had to be removed…and the plug on the fridge pulled. Our electrical bill decreased by an astonishing amount!

    Though I carefully never spoke of it, I always believed that the unplugging of that fridge was the unplugging of forty years of memories for her…

  9. I remember our first chest freezer was in my bedroom as a child. I was quite used to its noises and could still sleep well

  10. Pretty sweet, Stuart. You were lucky to have a grandmother who could cook. Neither of mine could cook, not much. One was always too busy working. The other had a cook for many of her years. My mother’s take on the latter was that she slowly starved her husband to death with meager portions and blandness.

  11. assortmentbox

    I could actually see the whole incident happening ,when i read through your post !!! Great job!!! 🙂

  12. :Lovely piece which shows the warmth and love of the family around the freezer.

  13. What a wonderful story. Warmed my heart.

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