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This (grinding) life

This (grinding) life

I stand in front of the open pantry, new pepper grinder in my left hand. Shiny in its newness, it is a thing of beauty, shaped to my hand and crafted from native timber — some sort of gum, the details now forgotten.

I look, peering into the shelf laden with an assortment of sauce bottles and half-used jam jars. Now where is it? There, at the back — the old pepper grinder, no longer of any use.

Placing the new grinder in pride of place at the front of the shelf, I reach behind for the old one and head to the bin.

In the process of discarding it I pause, staring at it thoughtfully. Clearly it is old, the varnish worn in parts where countless hands have gripped it over time. The wooden casing is nothing fancy. The grinding mechanism I know all too well is worn out. It is of no use to anyone and must go. But still, I pause, staring at the grinder and thinking …

Memories come flooding in. How once it was shiny and new, purchased by my husband long before I knew him. Purchased along with other essential items, such as the cheese grater and omelet pan, when first leaving home for student accommodation. Those items came with him when, some years later, we first set up home together and joined my cast-off collection of cooking implements scavenged from my parents and relatives.

How smart we thought we were! How the grinder took pride of place on the kitchen bench or at dinner parties. You know the ones, with candles in old wine bottles, beef stroganoff followed by crepes.

So many years and so much use. If I was good with maths I could count the number of times it had been used over the years — by hands big and small. By my children as they were experimenting with cooking under my husband’s casual direction. “Not too much,” he would say, looking over their shoulder, “just enough to enhance the flavor.” And then as they became proficient, using skills acquired from their employment as kitchen hands (and knowledge gleaned from TV), creating extravagant meals, they still finished with a flourish of pepper.

Now the children have grown and left. It is only my husband and I relying on this pepper grinder. Sadly, like my knees, it is worn out; and unlike my knees, it cannot be repaired.

It seems somehow not quite right to discard the item without recognition of the service it has given us and the memories attached to it.

Yet I remind myself that is the way of things. The object, of itself, is not important. The stories and memories attached to that object are what I should treasure and share with my loved ones.

Maybe, in time, the new grinder displayed in all its glory will also attract stories of good times.

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