I hoard napkins, reusable takeout containers, and glass jars. I attribute the hoarding to my beloved grandmother. Well, maybe also to my great grandmother and definitely to my mother. It’s been in our family for generations and I know that it will probably get passed to my own daughter.
As an immigrant family, I saw my grandmother skillfully refill glass jars with kimchee, soy bean paste, soups, herbal medicines, sometimes homemade wine, and even with some whiskey and a piece of some animal’s liver or heart. (Ask me about that later.) Nothing went to waste – the Styrofoam trays were gently cleaned and reused to hold rows and rows of Korean Mandoo (dumplings); the plastic grocery bags were neatly folded and would later be used to carry the jars of soups or kimchee to a neighbor; the jars – would replace the clay pots my grandmother once used in Korea to store kimchee, soy bean paste, red pepper paste, winter radish kimchee, and pickled cucumbers.
I’m not even sure where she got these jars. Our house and refrigerator were full of them and so was my grandmother’s house. It wasn’t until I was packing up our house, in preparation to sell it, that I realized I had a huge collection of my own glass jars. As I put the glass jars in the recycling bag, I felt the weight of each one in my hand and thought about how my grandmother, great-grandmother, or mother would’ve filled them. I thought about how I carried on tradition when I filled these jars. Some of the jars were filled with a special seawood soup for new mother that Koreans swear by; others with pickled cucumbers, onions, and cloves of garlic for a cousin who was living on his own and craved some Korean flavors; and a few filled with a newly discovered banana pudding recipe because I didn’t have a trifle bowl.
These weren’t just glass jars – these were representations of the community that surrounded me. This was how my immigrant family brought a small bit of Korea to me and taught me the importance of preserving our culture within the new culture that they lived in. This was how they showed love – filling my fridge on their visits with 3 different types of kimchee, 2 types of Korean soups, and a jar of my favorite pickled cucumbers.
I reluctantly recycled my glass jars. I know that I will probably hoard many more in the next few months and restart my collection. After all, these glass jars are not just glass jars, but they are my family’s heart, my family’s traditions, and the stories and community that they pass on to me.