It is July and once again we have succumbed to the temptation of a summer rental. Apparently the seduction of a new experience was more powerful than the memory of our last rental. At that time we had fallen in love with a charming, rustic home on an island with beautiful beaches. At least I heard that the beaches were beautiful.
For three weeks I viewed life through a screened-in porch. I was loath to go outdoors for fear of being eaten alive by voracious mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that seemed to thrive on bug spray and had no respect for protective clothing.
But time does have a way of subduing unpleasant experiences. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as siblings, would there? So here we are again, committed to another three weeks in someone else’s house.
Coming into a rental house is a funny thing. I don’t suggest arriving at night. Darkness is not the best time to try to become acquainted with alien light switches. The ones that seem the most intuitive never are. You would think that the switch nearest to the door would turn on the entrance light, but it doesn’t. So instead, you trip over your suitcase but finally find it on the adjacent wall.
Although the house is always clean and ready for our arrival, I invariably feel confronted with the ghosts of former renters. Their presence is usually manifested by what they have left behind. Half-used bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. A disposable razor in the shower. But my personal favorites are the treasures that await in the kitchen.
Half-empty jars of salad dressing, a bottle of juice, a stick of margarine, and an unopened package of white bread are sitting in the refrigerator. I click my tongue and shake my head as I immediately make a judgment about the poor dietary habits of the former tenant. But my immediate dilemma is what to do with this food?
I hate to throw food away. But would a partially consumed jar of ranch dressing really make a dent in world hunger? I consider pushing it all aside as I stow my own groceries. Maybe the next renter eats margarine. I close the door, immediately open it again, grab the old food and toss it in a garbage bag. I feel cleansed. A little guilty, but cleansed.
A search of the freezer presents the next problem. The freezer is not very large and is already home to several cartons of ice cream, packages of frozen vegetables, assorted breads, and a large bottle of vodka. Hmm. An ice cream and vodka diet. Now that’s an improvement.
Regaining my momentum I approach with another garbage bag but then stop in my tracks. The frozen food might very well belong to the owner of the house, who may one day return and want the Ben and Jerry’s and a Bloody Mary. I refrain from tossing, and rearrange instead.
I next take an inventory of the remnants in the pantry and try to figure out what to do with the vast collection of cooking oils and spice jars contributed by my predecessors. I go on line to research illnesses one might contract from using expired bay leaves and find none. So I will keep these and use as needed.
The kitchen is well equipped, but of course lacking in a few items that I cannot live without, and forgot to bring. I tell myself they are unimportant, but I know I will eventually buy replacements, and leave them behind as my contribution. I hope the person who follows me appreciates a left-handed grapefruit knife.
Our groceries are finally put away and I have staked my claim. The space I need is now all mine. I feel satisfied. I have nested in my rental.
It is lunch time and we are hungry. We open what we have brought and begin to prepare sandwiches. “Where are the knives?” my husband asks. I look at him amusedly. Did we not enter this house together? I don’t recall coming ahead on a scouting expedition. “I really don’t know,” I answer calmly, “but I bet if we put our heads together, we can find them.”
We are now two days into our vacation. We have located the knives, but I haven’t found anything smaller than a pizza pan in which I can scramble two eggs.
From my personal experience with summer rentals, I find I have a time limit for leaving things as they are. For the short term, say five days, I can tolerate the mysteries of locating items in a kitchen that is not mine, the groping in various drawers for the can opener, or the slotted spoon.
By the end of the fifth day, however, I am compelled to begin rearranging things. While I can co-exist with the prior tenant’s expired herbs and spices, this open-minded spirit does not necessarily extend to their sense of culinary organization.
It is now day four and my husband comes downstairs for breakfast to find me surrounded by cookware. I’ve decided to get a jump on things. I have removed every pot, pan, and lid from the cabinets and with the intensity of Sherlock Holmes, am attempting to match errant pot covers with their mates. Why are there always stray lids? (Whoever can solve this mystery might also be able to explain what happens to the other sock in the dryer.)
After replacing the cookware to my satisfaction, I go to work on the silverware drawer and the illogical placement of knives and cutting boards.
For the moment I am satisfied. Thus far, I have not found it necessary to rearrange any of the furniture.
I am beginning to think that this time it will work out well. The scenery is beautiful and the insect population somewhat less aggressive. We are exploring the countryside and have discovered farm stands where you can buy seasonal produce without little stickers.
I’m looking forward to preparing delicious wholesome meals in the newly organized kitchen and reread some of my favorite recipes. When I check the inventory of left-over spices, I find that it actually falls short of my needs. Clearly the former tenants have never heard of Jacques Pepin! So I will add some herbes de provence and one or two others that eventually will become my ghost in the pantry.
And one can only hope that the next renter shares my taste in salad dressing!