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Listener Commentary: "Once a Squirrel, Always a Squirrel"

By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Holland, NY – You're seen me in your grocery store. I'm that lady with sixteen cans of mushroom soup. Seven boxes of Kleenex. Twenty pounds of rice. You thought that I just like soup, but really I'm a stockpiler.

I'll say it again, admit it to you. I. Am. A. Stockpiler.

Buying lots of food that I do not plan to eat now or even soon, I imagine scenarios in which I feed my family - and sometimes even neighbors - during unseen emergencies. I daydream about saving the day with my forethought and my can opener.

My sister does not live in my town or peek into my basement, but she knows my secret. Heidi remembers when we were kids. When Mom came home from Loblaws each week, I'd unpack grocery bags, stacking boxes of Stove Top stuffing and Nestl 's Quik into our lazy susan.

Folding brown bags, nestling each into the first, I'd marvel, Wow. There's a lot of food here. If we had a storm, we'd be ready.

Always wishing for a blizzard the day after shopping day, that was me. Even in summer. Like some kind of crazy Laura Ingalls figure armed with jars of spaghetti sauce, I was the hero of my own food fantasies. Every week was the same. Nestle bags. Marvel. Wow. There's a lot of food here. Even now, my sister will ask, So Amy, are you ready for a STORM?

In those days, I wasn't in charge of family meal planning or shopping. Now I am. Weekly I decide whether to purchase two pounds of fresh salmon for tonight or twelve cans of tuna for a possible upcoming disaster. Oh thank you, my friends will say. It's so good to have tuna noodle casserole in the middle of this raging blizzard. So good that you thought of it. So good that YOU were ready.

So, why am I obsessed with such future preparedness when I don't even have plans or produce for tonight's dinner? When we didn't have enough milk for this morning's Cheerios? Perhaps I am thirsty for drama, but I'm not alone. Each time the radio starts that emergency music, many of you flock to the dairy case for just a few more pounds of butter. Just in case. Sometimes I worry that a brawl will break out over cream cheese. I worry that you'll get the last package.

When our grandchildren look back at family photos, they'll see stockpiler evidence. Especially in the pictures of our oldest daughter on New Year's Eve 1999. Yes, Y2K. A stockpiler's dream. Worldwide, we feared that all computers would crash as the nines changed to zeros. In December 1999, I bought gallons and gallons of bottled water each time I went to Jubilee. One day, a woman stared at my heavy cart and asked, Are you anxious about Y2K or something? I quickly chuckled, wagged my head back and forth, and said, Oh no. My family just likes water. Well, those computers didn't crash that night. But I have pictures of my daughter stacking cans of peas. Pictures of my daughter stacking cans of carrots. Pictures of my daughter stacking cans of potatoes.

Such compulsive hoarding comes in waves, and my most recent concern has been the bird flu. I have already purchased all of the emergency candles in our CVS and at Vidler's. Twice. Rubber gloves? Check. Aluminum foil? Check. Mandarin Oranges? Check. The other day I thought I'd browse around the Internet to see what the community of stockpilers was doing in the face of a possible pandemic.

Here I read about people with whole rooms of catalogued goods, with full year supplies of premade meals, with dehydrators and flour mills, livestock and butter churns. Professional preparers, these folks. I was intimidated enough to break into my stash of emergency gummy bears and eat half the bag. But no worry. Next time I go shopping, I'll replace it with three.

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