The Doors to My Pantry

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If you think of doors as an invitation, a lovely opening into our lives, then I have no way to explain the ominous double doors into my pantry.  My pantry is just a large cabinet in my kitchen, really – not one of those glorious spaces you can walk into and peruse shelves of canned and boxed goods.  The drawers slide out to reveal what is hidden in the back. When we remodeled the kitchen, this seemed like a good idea. With a stocked pantry, we’d eat easily for months. Obviously, there really is no need to stockpile canned goods in our town.  The market is little more than a mile away and they are experts at storing food (they even look at the expiration dates on cans). The “Great Depression” gene, though, is a strong one and I think I inherited it from my mother-in-law who never saw a jar she shouldn’t save. What would happen if we wanted, say, sweet canned corn and there was none? Our large, stocked pantry would save the day.

What we didn’t foresee – what we couldn’t have known about in our eagerness to stock up on chicken soup, black beans, and cereal – were the ants.  Or the weevils. That much food just invites trouble. And trouble came. Slowly, at first. We were lulled into acceptance when we saw just one or two ants.  “Stragglers!” we assured each other; “They’re just foraging.  When they don’t find anything, they’ll go away,” we promised ourselves.

If I were in a rush, I might not even see them. I’d just grab what I needed quickly.  The large bins of flour on the bottom shelf, were wedged between the gluten-free stuff and the sugars (how many different kinds of sugar are there? Clearly, I was on a mission to buy them all). The canned goods and bags of walnuts, peanuts, pine nuts, and almonds crowded each other on the upper shelves – you just can’t have too many garbanzo beans.  The top shelf was mostly for baking things: 3 jars of vanilla which please the baking gods, Wilson frosting colors, honey, molasses, Karo Corn Syrup (what do we even use that for?). I don’t really bake, but this shelf, of course, was the ants’ favorite.  You see, there was so much stuff to paw through, an ant could hide for days.

Summer came, though.  I teach middle school and summer gives me time to look and see what is around me – to take it all in.  Ahh . . . I really should clean out the pantry.  What’s this from 2006? The Great Summer Toss began and that’s how I found the ants practicing maneuvers in their military units. Not really in trails, but several gathered together and scurrying. They reminded me of that great children’s story “Two Bad Ants” by Chris Van Allsburg, but as far as I was concerned, they were ALL bad ants.  I panicked.

Naturally, I ran to my husband.  “DO SOMETHING!” I begged.  “GET RID OF THEM!”

The trouble with husbands is that they rarely have the same sense of urgency about most things – and mine is no exception.  “They’re just a few ants,” he tried to reason.  We went back and forth over the severity of our ant problem. He would feign mild concern, but he knew that my frustration was like a bull dog and could not let go of this bone. Just as I’m sure he’d planned, I researched and called the exterminators.

I know my husband eschews the large, corporate chains for things like this, so I found this little company, just two guys, who come out in their Hazmat suits and goggles.  They came out and explained, very carefully, that given our infestation, we probably had ants in the walls. (I’m sure there is a children’s book in there somewhere waiting for Neil Gaiman).  They would carefully spray a “material” that is safe for animals and children.  I eagerly signed the contract and put them to work.

“Mam, don’t use any other bug sprays when you see the ants.  The material we use is designed for the ants to take back to their colonies where it spreads and eventually gets rid of all of them.”

Did you catch that?  I didn’t.  He used the word “eventually” – which meant that getting rid of the ants would be a slow and painful process. But I missed that fine detail.  I expected an immediate solution to my problem.

Two weeks later, after a brief vacation in ant-free Montana, we came home to find MORE ANTS. I called those guys immediately.  “It’s been two weeks . . . they’re not gone yet!”  They just sent one guy this time. He sprayed again.

As he was just about ready to leave, I opened those dreaded doors to the pantry. “And I’m still finding some in here . . .” I started to explain as I picked up the lemon extract and a package of cupcake cups.  There, running in every direction, were at least a dozen ants.  “ACK – don’t go yet . . . SPRAY HERE!”

I quickly emptied every box, bag, and can from the entire pantry as my exterminator watched, glumly. Our stockpiles of food covered every available surface in my kitchen.  Every now and then I would just toss something into the trash to show those ants I meant business.  After the pantry was empty, he sprayed all around the walls of the pantry. The ants kept coming.

“Don’t worry . . . this should take care of it.  Give it a few days and call me back right away if you still see ants,” my exterminator told me just before he drove off in his white van.

And the ants kept coming.

When my husband got home, I made him remove all the shelves.  Deep in the drawer slides were weevils.  WEEVILS now???  They were dead, though, suffocated by the grease used to make the drawers slide in and out easily.  That didn’t matter.  My panic rose.  I wiped those slides clean with paper towel after paper towel. And then I proceeded to throw out any package where ants or weevils might be partying. This took hours.

Both my husband and my daughter left me alone to work in my manic way.  I gathered bags upon bags of food to toss (poor husband now has to take a trip to the dump because there is just not enough room in the trash cans for this kind of purging). Kidney beans from 2011?  TOSS.  Open bags of Xantham gum? TOSS.  All those bags of partially used rice?  TOSS.

Eventually, there were just a few things left on the counter.  But there were still a few ants making their way across the empty shelves. I called my guy and left a message: “You said to call you if I still saw ants.  Well, I still see them!” When he called back, he told me it would take days for them to go away.  DAYS? Yes, and I should just leave them alone to pick up the “material” (aka poison) and take it back to their nests. I should call him in a week if I’m still seeing them.  A WEEK?

My husband, who is far more patient in matters like these, looked at me kindly and asked if I thought we could put the remaining food back into the pantry.  I sighed, not at all happy about wandering ants, but realizing I could not leave cans and boxes all over our counters. Where would the kids put the toaster to make their breakfast?  “Ok,” I agreed, “but I won’t be able to truly rest until they’re completely gone.”

There wasn’t much to put back.  The pantry looks sparse and clean now.  God forbid we have some sort of apocalypse emergency where we run low on food – but for now, there’s not much for ants or weevils to feast on.  We stocked the shelves – and then, unceremoniously, just closed the doors.  I don’t think I’ll need anything from that cabinet for at least a week.

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