Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a life measured in milk crates

T.S. Elliot may have measured his life in coffee spoons, I measure my life in milk crates. 

Being a restaurant owner, you tend to collect milk crates. Blue, black, yellow, red, we get them from our distributors and we pick them up from our wholesaler. 16-1 liter creams, 9-2 liter milks or 4-4litre jugs, or we use them to carry random arrays of smaller items. We might get 10 or 12 new crates a week. We are supposed to return them, but never return them at the same rate we collect them so they pile up. Sometimes we have a wall of milk crates in the basement of the bistro and a similar wall in the basement of our home.

Milk crates are very useful.  They are sturdy, they are a good size for carrying as they never get to heavy, they have good handles and they are stackable. We use them to haul laundry back and forth between the bistro and home. They hold folded towels very neatly. When we first opened, and were doing our own napkins, I routinely brought nine or ten crates home to my dear sainted mother-in-law to wash, iron and fold.  Milk crates are great for holding dry goods. They are used to keep pails off the floor. We rig up extra work spaces by stacking a few crates. Some of my shorter dishwashers use them as a step stool to reach the top shelf.

At home milk crates have many uses as well. My five year old uses a crate to stand on so that she can reach the sink. They are the perfect size for holding records, remember vinyl? They make great bookshelves (lay the on their side) and with a piece of plywood you have built a table.  I have used a bunch of them to build a rack for the chopped wood for my stove. For a while there I was using a milk crate as my brief case, and when I am working on a new menu I cart books and magazines back and forth in a crate.  I usually have a crate lashed to the back of my bike with bungee cords (another essential tool) so that I can transport groceries.  Can you believe someone stole the crate of the back of my bike? If he had asked nicely, I would have given him a crate. I've got lots.

Beyond their utility, milk crates represent the cyclical nature of life. We go through our days, collecting crates. A few at a time, really unaware that they are piling up. Then before you know it, we have used all the crates we need and the extras have piled up into walls or towers.  No longer useful, these crates create obstacles and barriers. Every once in a while, we must look at our milk crates and get rid of the excess. We must load up the truck and return them to the wholesaler. Just as trees shed their leaves in fall, we too must shed our milk crates.

Once purged of milk crates we are free to start collecting them again. And so, we go around again...