Tomato paste provenance

It’s disorienting, sometimes, the way objects slip in and out of our lives — what ever happened to that red shirt? Don’t I own more coffee mugs? Where on Earth did this book come from?

I used to be very focused on momentos — my teenage bedroom had a meticulously arranged display of every chotchke and knick-knack that felt like representation of Living a Life: concert tickets and boarding passes and street corner souvenirs1 and dried out boutonnieres and metro cards from “big cities” like Chicago! Then I moved, and moved, and moved, and moved again, and my parents moved and moved again, and I grew and changed, and the memories were lost or discarded, or the objects were, or both. A room became a Banker’s Box became a shoebox became an empty shelf.

I’m coming up on four years of living in Minneapolis. I missed Hy-Vee for a long while after moving here, the big friendly grocery chain found all over Iowa. Cub is … not for me. They have one up here, a Hy-Vee, somewhere or other, and have long talked of building another nearby. But it seems to be all talk.

Regardless, I eventually moved on in my heart. The grocer nearest me is over-priced, and the produce is poor, but it’s there, and I know it, and in my loneliest stretches I visited five times a week, just to have somewhere to go and people to chat with. I joined a co-op up the road a bit ago, now that I’ve got the truck. Better produce, good sandwiches, earnest people who think they’ll live forever by asking about the mercury content of their homeopathic tinctures.

I hadn’t thought about any of this, hadn’t thought of Iowa in forever, and then: this can of tomato paste.

Photo of a hand holding a can of HyVee brand tomato paste.

Do you know how many recipes call for tomato paste? My girlfriend and I have been cooking a lot this winter and we’re really going through it. We needed some for sloppy joes and she pulled this can of Hy-Vee store brand tomato paste out of the back of my pantry. “Oh no! You’d better check the expiration date.”2

My mind reeled at the provenance of this can. Six ounces from another lifetime! I clearly moved here with it. This apartment may even be its third home, if I brought it from the house. I wonder: did I buy it with purpose, for a meal that never was? Or was it aspirational, a baby step toward the day I became the kind of person who needed to have tomato paste handy? (You don’t need it for frozen pizzas, that’s for sure.)

You expect to find ghosts from time to time in an attic or garage, or your childhood bedroom closet, but an apartment pantry?! I thought I knew this place! I wonder what other memories lurk in cupboard corners, fallen behind furniture, tucked in boxes I’ve gone blind to from familiarity. It seems the mementos accumulate whether you mean for them to or not.

  1. I do regret losing track of my Statue of Liberty lighter.
  2. It expired in 2017. We ate it anyway. Nobody died.
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