My curiosity was piqued. I reached in and picked up the package.
The cold burned into my bare hands. The heat from my index finger carefully melted away a thin layer of frost and revealed a small clue to the identity of the misshapen bundle.
“Use by November 1,” said the tiny red letters stamped on the label. That’s not so bad, I thought. Then I read the year, “1998.”
Ooh, that is bad.
Cleaning out the freezer. It’s one of those household chores a person tackles only when a force of nature bends her to its will. Like a power loss or a 6-foot-6-inch brother-in-law demanding his chest freezer back.
Otherwise, I would have flitted through life, blissfully unaware that hiding in my kitchen was a toxic wasteland, rivaling anything caused by Chernobyl or our golden retriever after she eats the remote control.
And it was the thought of a radioactive rump roast spreading its diseased carcass around my kitchen that spurred me into action that Saturday morning.
No more battling for space in the freezer. No more shoving bags of frozen broccoli into tight corners, in between a two-year-old loaf of French bread and a fruit cake my grandma gave us three Christmases ago.
We don’t even eat broccoli. I only buy it because it looks so lonely in grocery store. The same could be said for frozen carrots, low-fat fudge bars and diet dinners. I buy because I care.
It had come down to this moment. Man vs. Machine. Female vs. Frigidaire.
The freezer is the black hole of kitchen appliances. What goes in never comes out. Except for ice cream. A gallon of double chocolate chunky crunch has a lifespan that rivals a fruit fly’s.
Armed with a pair of barbecue tongs, a roll of plastic trash bags, an updated tetanus shot and the gas mask I bought for $2.50 at our local army surplus store, I told my little boy I loved him deeply and to eat his veggies after mommy’s gone. But stay away from the carrots. They’re toxic.
I threw the freezer door open wide and was greeted with a large cloud of cold air and a smell generally reserved for a junior high school boys’ locker room. How’d that jockstrap get in there?
I reeled in horror, raised the tongs and waved them around to ward off the obnoxious odor.
Then I tripped over the dog sitting behind me who had decided to watch the proceedings with a misplaced notion that I was going to toss her a little something to challenge her iron-clad stomach.
I crashed to the floor and suddenly the lights went out. OHMYGOD! I’m blind! Save the baby!
That’s when I realized the gas mask had simply slipped down over my eyes. No need to panic. It’s cool. I let out a deep breath. That was a close one.
I stood up, pushed back my sleeves, wrestled the tongs away from the dog (who had snatched them off the floor and was halfway to the living room) and steeled myself for Round Two.
That’s when the ice machine loudly dumped a new load of fresh cubes into the storage bin. The freezer’s version of giving me the finger.
You are weak, my enemy. I am strong. I will crush you with my rancid smell and icy demeanor. And I have taken your double chocolate chunky crunch hostage.
The breath caught in my throat. Threatening me with the loss of double chocolate chunky crunch? That’s just plain mean.
I attacked with a vengeance. Nothing was safe. I reached in and grabbed boxes of stuffed jalapeno poppers, egg rolls and shrimp cocktail. I absently wondered who in the family had an appetizer addiction.
And a two-year-old frozen pizza with nothing but mushrooms on it? Who bought that and why aren’t they in therapy?
One hour later – with an amazing freezer burn on my arm the shape of Louisiana – the dust began to settle.
All that remained in the large freezer was a year’s supply of Girl Scout cookies and one gallon of double chocolate chunky crunch.
Man vs. Machine. It wasn’t much of a contest.
(originally published Aug. 8, 2006)