(Published in The Green Mountain Trading Post on January 11, 2017)
In preparation for the arrival of our new refrigerator, I removed the magnets and school calendars and shopping lists and coupons from the old refrigerator door. I found a horizontal surface for all the paper and stuck the magnets on the file cabinet in the office for the time being.
The new fridge arrived all shiny and promising. Since I never seem to mind what we get because I’m not fussy and my treasures aren’t here on earth anyway, I let my husband pick out the new appliance. Of course, it’s stainless steel. Sleek, modern, metallic. It’s what everyone is getting these days. I think he enjoyed picking it out. My daughter enjoyed filling it up. Then it was my turn to finish the job. I would stick the magnets and papers back on the fridge. I gathered everything I had relocated and brought it into the kitchen. I picked my favorite magnet, the one I bought for myself at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum. It has a picture of a stamp bearing Stowe’s portrait along with the quote: “There is more done with pens than with swords.” I held it up to the fridge door to stick it there forever. It didn’t stick. I tried the magnet bearing Tim’s soccer photo from when he was seven. That didn’t stick either. Neither did David’s little league photo magnet. None of the magnets stuck. My heart sunk. We now live in a time when magnets and memories don’t stick to refrigerator doors.
When did we decide it was ok to sterilize the kitchen? Pretty soon all kitchens are going to look the same. Stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, and no personality. It used to be that when you went over a friend’s house, the first thing you did while they fixed you a cup of tea was examine their fridge, and by taking in the baby pictures, kid’s artwork, and grocery lists, you learned their story. You learned what they cherished. Now if you want to know someone, you have to look inside their fridge. That’s way more intrusive.
The fridge was a place of honor. If you got an A+ on a spelling test, it would win a place there. It was a place to post the news: a cousin’s wedding announcement, an invitation to a party, a wish list for Santa. It was a place to express yourself. All newcomers to Grama Shirley’s would know she was smitten with Tom Selleck and a member of his fan club when they saw Selleck raising his bushy brown eyebrows at them from the photo on her fridge.
Some people were spare in the items they chose to post there. Their news was always timely, their photos always current. They used magnets to keep things tidy. Others had photos and papers stuck on there with magnets but also stuck with scotch tape. Some would cover the entire refrigerator doors and even the side.
If we no longer need magnets to adhere memories to our appliances, what will buy for Grama as a souvenir on vacation? She had lighthouses from Maine and moose from Vermont. How is it that these things that I grew up with are going to start showing up in antique stores as Americana?
We could express ourselves with what we stuck up there and with the appliance itself. We used to be able to choose the color we wanted to coordinate with our room or our personality. Remember the gold and avocado refrigerators of the 70s? Now everything is stainless. Some would call this progress, but it reminds me of Henry Ford saying of the Model T in 1909 “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black.”
And they call it stainless, but who are we kidding? As soon as you touch it, your fingerprint shows up. The old models could hide a little dirt and some chocolate smudges. It made it easier to get away with things like food thievery and maybe putting off wiping down the doors for a while. Now we can’t get away with anything, but its saving grace may be that the smooth semi-reflective finish does make it easier to dust for prints when someone helps themselves to the last scoop of ice cream.
My son is sixteen and the day we replaced the fridge he told me he already missed the old one we had placed by the curb for some lucky passerby in need of a new used icebox. I asked him why he missed the old one. “It was warmer,” he said. I’m just now realizing the pun in that. At the time, I was caught up in his budding nostalgia. He meant the look of the off white appliance was warmer, and with its lived in look, more friendly when you walked into the room. His follow up remark about the new fridge was “This one looks like a cryogenic freezer.” It was a good quote. I’d like to post it. Since magnets no longer stick to refrigerator doors, I think I’ll use tape.