Refrigerators can have magnetic personalities

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Every refrigerator door tells a story.

This one was a shrine to the miracle of family and magnetism.

I was visiting a friend’s home. I was seated at the kitchen table as my genial host brewed some tea. She was making small talk about the weather. It’s a Minnesota law. We have to talk about the weather. I listened to the best of my ability until my attention was drawn to the door of the refrigerator. It was covered with magnets. The refrigerator had enough magnetic insulation to keep it cold.

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The woman noticed where my eyes had strayed and told me that her mother had died recently. She added that after her mother’s death, the children picked out the things they wanted of their late mother’s possessions. My friend wanted the magnets from her mother’s refrigerator. On days with sharp elbows, the magnets gave her comfort.

I could understand why the magnets would be desirable remembrances of someone’s life. There were magnets with funny slogans and intriguing shapes that held a great deal. They had turned a refrigerator door into a family photo album. Besides photos, the magnets held in place crayon drawings, report cards, bills, menus, quotes, obituaries, business cards, phone numbers, recipes, greeting cards, letters, newspaper clippings, cartoons, coupons, notes, grocery lists — and a lifetime of memories. It would take a hardened soul to read a stranger’s refrigerator door and remain emotionally uninvolved.

I recall with fondness my mother’s refrigerator. Not so much because of what was inside it, although she was a great cook. I remember best some of the things that magnets held to the door. Thought-provoking sayings that made me contemplative and newspaper comics that made me laugh. A refrigerator door is an art show and a kitchen’s bumper sticker. It was a scrapbook before scrapbooking was in.

Mother had obtained her secondhand refrigerator long before there were colors like soothing harvest gold or aesthetically pleasing avocado green. Her appliance was covered in an exotic hue called, “white.” Her aged fridge had long since gotten over its cold. It had three climate zones on its shelves. The first temperature region was nearest the door. It kept things at room temperature. We didn’t put anything there. The second temperature district was in the middle of the shelves and it maintained the approximate degrees that a refrigerator should keep foods. The third area, closest to the rear of the refrigerator, froze things. It was a part of the refrigerator that thought it was a freezer. It was used when we needed something chilled quickly. The old fridge had no icemaker. It had a metal tray for the formation of ice cubes. The tray had to be body slammed to force it to release the cubes.

The refrigerator needed to be defrosted occasionally. The door received an annual spring-cleaning.

A refrigerator door of memories is a family encyclopedia. It is a form of journaling. It serves as a family’s communications center.

I remember my bachelor years living with a noisy refrigerator that had more on the outside of the door than on the inside. It gave me something to read that took my mind off my hunger. In those days when I didn’t care if anyone knew that I drank directly from the milk jug, the refrigerator housed memories in the form of ancient leftovers–unidentifiable and furry green. The fridge was so noisy that visitors often asked, “Is that your refrigerator running?”

That gave me the opportunity to reply with one of the world’s oldest jokes, “Yes, it’s training for a marathon.”

The refrigerator’s library here at the Batt Cave has been downsized for the sake of expediency. There are no reams of papers sticking to our refrigerator. Various electronic instruments of communication have usurped some of the information exchange duties of a fridge.

The door has magnets. They work to keep in place dry erase boards, messages, a notepad for grocery lists, emergency phone numbers, photos, and cartoons.

Many refrigerators are made of materials that do not allow magnets to adhere to them. This causes countless refrigerator doors to stare blankly at the world. That’s a sad thing.

Refrigerator doors are still very important daily organizers in my life.

We were walking to Target Field to see the Twins play baseball.

I said to my lovely wife, The Queen B, “I wish I had brought the refrigerator with me.”

She gave me that look that she has become good at giving me.

“Why on earth would you want to bring the refrigerator with you?” asked my wife. It was a reasonable question.

I replied, “Because our tickets are under a magnet on its door.”

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.