“There is no such thing as a poltergeist. And it is absurd to think that we have one in our house, let alone one that steals Tupperware lids!” This statement issued forth from my husband, the scientist.
Now I’m also a science geek, but how else can I explain what was going on in the house?
“Okay, so tell me why so many of my plastic food containers are missing their lids.”
I had heard of, and experienced, the eternal mystery of socks that disappeared during the course of laundry, and I’ve accepted that they escape magically from dryers to a “Sock Planet’” that exists on the far side of the universe. But plastic containers are on a whole different level. First they live and operate in plain view, unlike socks which are usually out of sight; second, I do most of my cooking on the weekends, and so I am heavily dependent on Tupperware all the time; third, and most importantly, my attachment to my plastic ware is only a shade weaker than my maternal instincts. Socks may come and socks may go but the 2-quart rectangular container, made out of durable polypropylene with its powder-blue tight-seal, no-spill lid that is microwave- and dishwasher-safe, will never be replaced in my affections. True, you can get a whole set for $14, $8.99 if on sale, but the bonds that you develop with individual pieces: priceless. Also remember, I had not lost just one or two, but five lids! To say that I was concerned would be to opine that the world was a mite worried when Hitler overran Europe. But the relevant question was if my other half would be equally concerned.
The hero in my life flipped … channels on TV, moving from Jeopardy to the CNN news hour. “I’m sure they’re around here somewhere. Look under the fridge. These two little rascals might have pushed them under there.”
I looked fondly at our two daughters, aged five and two at the time, who were playing with the contents of my purse. The older one was making a train of all the cards I had in my wallet, including my credit, debit, and health insurance cards, while the younger one was chewing with dreamy satisfaction on a bill from Walmart.
“They would never do something like that. In fact, I’ll show you that they didn’t.” I marched up to the refrigerator and, after much contortion, peered underneath. Sure enough, there were two plastic lids there.
Hubby gave me his best I-told-you-so look with its matching smile. “I told you so,” he added unnecessarily but with great satisfaction.
Now that I had discovered that our own two gremlins were at work, I started on the Great Tupperware Lid Hunt for the three others that were AWOL. I moved and swept under furniture, and peered at all the nooks and crannies in the house. I scared the poor dust bunnies that had made their homes in shady places, and was in turn frightened by a dust tiger that had formed in one particularly remote wedge between the bed, the bedside table, and the junction of two walls. I found an assortment of things in my quest, like petrified chips and cookies, a couple of single earrings, a few single socks that were in the process of making their own bid for freedom, some old toys, and a pacifier. As for container lids, I found none … nada … zilch. I still had three forlorn containers, whose matching lids were MIA.
I tried detaining and questioning my older daughter, but got nothing. She claimed that she had never so much as glanced at the objects in question, and could they have the old toys and the pacifier to play with? I looked at the two-year-old, who was munching on a sock now, and decided that there was no point in interrogating her. She was cagy enough to stonewall me with smiles, babble and baby talk. Of course, I didn’t report the details of this unsuccessful search-and-rescue operation to my man, since I did not feel like dealing with the skepticism and negative comments that I felt would result in such a situation. Instead, I settled down to watching my Tupperware drawer like a hawk.
Alas, what can I say of ensuing events! I was but human, and had a human need for food, entertainment, and sleep. To better afford the aforementioned needs, I had to work too. These lapses in vigilance took their toll. More lids disappeared, until there were too many “widowed” containers.
I spilled my guts about these happenings to my friends at work, and was reassured when they said that this happened with them too. At least I was not alone. They all said that the lids would eventually return … the day after the matching containers were trashed. That gave me the idea for a bold experiment.That very evening, I came home and furtively threw one of the partner-less containers in the trash. I was stunned the next day … when I discovered that another lid went missing. As I leaned weakly against the cooking range, my worst fears were realized. There was a spectral being in the house that liked to play with my mind and my stuff—and now it knew that I knew.
The final evidence came a couple of years later, when we got rid of all the “singles” and bought a whole new set of Rubbermaid containers.
As soon as I brought the box into the house (ceremoniously placing my right foot first over the threshold), I opened it and matched all the pieces. There they were, all eight of them, with their matching lids. As per instructions, I washed them all in warm soapy water and placed them in the draining basket to dry. Then, I sat down with a cup of coffee at the right vantage point from where I could watch them.
Fifteen minutes later, I approached the draining board and began matching the containers again with my heart racing like a perp on the “World’s Worst Car Chases,” and my pulse pounding like a money-lender’s knock. They were all there. I put them away in a different cupboard with hands that shook with relief and excess caffeine. I went to check on their well-being the next day and, sure enough, a lid was missing!
The verdict was finally in. My conclusions were: a) there was a poltergeist at work in the house, b) it was more powerful than I, and c) I could either choose to accept it and live peacefully, or fight it and damn the consequences. I did the only thing a smart woman would do under the circumstances. Placing my hand on the cupboard, I closed my eyes and mentally handed over my entire Tupperware set to IT. I ended with a plea for it not to touch my next-favorite kitchen stuff: my coffee mug collection.
After that, every time a lid or a container disappeared, I would smile bravely and carry on as if no grievous wound had been inflicted on my tender heart. I also found out that my husband was aware of this depletion of the family resources. I once had the flu and was in bed for a few days, during which time Dad had the sole custody of the kids. When I did make it downstairs and headed to the fridge, my girls stopped me.
“Don’t touch anything in the fridge. Dad said to wait for him.”
Being one who never found a “Wet Paint” sign that she could resist, I peeked in the fridge and found the reason for the ban. The small round container of soup was covered by the medium square lid, and the rectangular medium container of sambar was capped with a large round lid. And the biggest faux-pas of all: a Glad container was closed with a Rubbermaid lid! I could have cried at what the Plastic-ware Poltergeist had wrought in our happy household.
However, we did get rid of the specter … in a way. We sold our house and moved out. Actually, we just exchanged the poltergeist for another entity, which we have learned to love since, and refer to affectionately as the “House Ghost.” The children are especially attached to it. It likes plastic-ware too, as well as cutlery and pens, though I find it hard to believe when the girls say that it takes their homework assignments. And it certainly loves to make messes around the house. Best of all, my husband believes in the “House Ghost.”
Just the other day, when there was a bunch of books and a couple of Barbies on the floor, and no one in the family knew how they had got there, the head-of-the-household was philosophical.
“It must be the work of the ‘House Ghost’.”
Oh, how far he had come since the day we moved out of the old house! That day, when we got in the car, he saw me waving to the house. “I hope you know that the house won’t wave back,” he said in his usual loving and supportive manner.
“I was waving to the Plastic-ware Poltergeist,” I said. “I only hope that the new owners have a lot of plastic containers, otherwise it will be so unhappy.”
“There are no such things as poltergeists, let alone absurd ones that steal Tupperware lids,” he had said in exasperation.
Now he knows better.
Lakshmi Palecanda lived in Bozeman, Monatana till very recently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org