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It’s the little ‘guilts’ that get you

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By Janny Wilcke

Opening the refrigerator this morning to get cream for my coffee, I saw IT again on the second shelf near the back.

It is a half of a honeydew melon that for some reason has no sweetness. I made myself finish the first piece for breakfast two days ago and then I ate another slice for a pick-me-up that afternoon, but I just can’t bring myself to eat any more of it and, as my husband has no interest, it sits there in the refrigerator.

The problem is that my conscience won’t allow me to throw out even half of an unspoiled melon that cost $2.98. Each time I open the refrigerator and see it, I visualize eyes sitting on it, like that Geico commercial in which a pair of eyes on a wad of money are supposed to make you feel guilty for going with a more expensive insurer. The eyes on the melon follow me while I make my selection and close the door.

This led me to thinking about how annoying such little guilt trips can be and how much they govern our lives. Don’t we all suffer from them to some degree? Did you ever make yourself finish a lousy book just because of some vague feeling that a person ought to finish what he or she started?  Did you ever keep a jar of extra-hot salsa until it formed mold so you then felt justified throwing it out?

Some years ago when my oldest daughter was in college, her roommate told her that her mother once mixed a jar of expensive “natural” peanut butter in with spaghetti sauce just because it had reached its expiration date and she was afraid it might become rancid before it was gone. Because she couldn’t bear to throw it out, she made her poor family spread the thick odd-tasting glop on their noodles.

And in truth, the last time my daughter, who now has six kids of her own, made a sandwich for herself was probably ten years ago. She feeds herself on all those uneaten crusts because she cannot bear to throw them away. I swear I never told her about any starving children in China when she was growing up just to make her finish her dinner. (Okay, I may have mentioned them once or twice.)

Once a friend in Kansas, Patty, dropped a cake she’d bought at a bazaar on the walk as she carried it into her house. Rather than throw it away, she carefully scooped it up and served it to her unknowing family in chunks.

Of course, food is not the only source of guilt. Two summers ago I splurged and bought an expensive pair of jean shorts from an upscale store in the mall that I thought I loved. For a reason I can’t now recall, I grew to dislike them over the winter – probably because I felt they made me look frumpy. But when I thought of getting rid of them the following spring, I saw dollar signs flapping for parts unknown. It was the guilt of my having spent $40 foolishly, and as I couldn’t outrun it, I kept the shorts. Then one day during the summer, a friend and I were sitting on two old wooden chairs chatting lazily about this and that. When I got up to get more lemonade, I felt a tug and heard a rip. A sliver of wood had caught the seat of those fancy shorts. My friend expected a different reaction but I just shrugged it off with a saintly smile on my face. I didn’t explain but I was guilt-free when I later threw those shorts away.

I have never been too successful in dealing with these little guilts. Constructive self-talk works with most of my major shortcomings but not with my little ones. I just can’t throw away that half of a melon or that jar of overly sour pickles that I purchased recently. There needs to be a support group for those of us who feel compelled to take that old maxim, “waste not, want not,” too seriously. If nothing else, we could swap our pickles or salsa or frumpy clothes. It’s not a bad idea.