The Reused Cool Whip Container
We all have special memories of the reused Cool Whip container, first bought for last year’s Thanksgiving because no one wanted to buy heavy cream and make whipped cream from scratch. The double-sized container was emptied of its luscious white fluff almost as soon as we cut our very first slice of store-bought pumpkin pie because no one could be bothered to make that from scratch either.
The Cool Whip container served us well for a year holding leftovers of Hamburger Helper, mac and cheese, chili, beef stew, and taco meat before crumpling in the sink after releasing the congealed mass of the meatloaf made by grandma for last Sunday’s dinner.
It had lived next to the pots under the cutlery drawer, nestled in the multi-colored matryoshka of Tupperware mom had bought at a party she went to at the neighbors who served cocktail wieners cooked in grape jelly in a slow cooker.
We most fondly recall the day mom decided to make her famous green pineapple and carrot Jell-O salad in the reused Cool Whip container because she had forgotten she had already used her only mold for a rum cake. The resulting wobbly tower sat jiggling on the table, the grooves of the container making decorative circles on top. It saved mom, and for that, we are eternally grateful.
We would also like to celebrate the life of the Reused Cool Whip Container with a moment of silence as we remember all of the times it also carried lunch for the kids, embarrassing them in the cafeteria.
The Reused Cool Whip container is survived by two Country Crock tubs filled with last night’s goulash and the night before’s spaghetti. We ask that in lieu of flowers, you please donate to our Save a Plastic Container fund we have created in memory of the Reused Cool Whip Container.
When I wrote “The Reused Cool Whip Container,” I tried to capture a very specific moment, diving deep into nostalgia. I could have easily used a Country Crock, Parkay, or Blue Bonnet tub, but the Cool Whip container just lent itself to the story. Food can stir up memories as well as give a sense of setting and character. If you grew up with grandparents or parents who would never throw out a perfectly good container or “Tupperware,” then you know the characters in this story. They could be you. They could be your own family. If you have never grown up with this, it’s a great lens to see another way of living.
If I write about food, I use it as a way to develop the setting or the characters. In one story, I used an opened and half-eaten can of tuna left on the sink as a metaphor for a relationship. In other stories, I use food as a socio-economic marker. A person who has had government cheese or powdered milk and water on their corn flakes is not the person who shuns food with diet pills and alcohol, or maybe that’s who they turn into. Most of the time, I use lists of food for parties or luaus as scene-setting. You can capture so much about the characters from what is on their table. A baby luau will have different food than a funeral. A birthday party will not have the same things as a Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas brunch. There’s power in what food a writer chooses to use in their work. After all, that double-sized Cool Whip container, emptied after Thanksgiving and probably a few sneaks of midnight spoon snacking, was the perfect vessel for carrying this story.
Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in Booth, Pleiades, The Citron Review, Milk Candy Review, Necessary Fiction, HAD, NFFR, trampset, jmww, Superstition Review, Splonk, Lost Balloon and Best Small Fictions 2021. You can find Hard Skin, her short story collection, at Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.