My refrigerator is tucked beneath a two-burner stove top. In a prior life, it might have been a college beer fridge, but if you look inside this refrigerator, you will find a slab of butter, a half pot of jam, and a handful of greens. There’s a shelf in the door which is held together with packing tape and where I can stash a liter bottle or two. Any more than that, and the tape breaks, crashing the milk or soy or (God forbid) wine to the floor.
Yet despite a litany of reasons to the contrary, I love this refrigerator. It performs its role admirably, or at least adequately.
But my refrigerator and I have not always had such a harmonious relationship.
When I reflect on a series of moves and upgrades and kitchen remodels, I realize my refrigerator, as much as anything, was my economic bellwether. As my circumstances rose, my refrigerator was expected to keep stride.
Freshly graduated and newly married, our first refrigerator was part and parcel of a rental flat a mile north of the city limit of Detroit. It was a top freezer model that had been unfashionable for at least a decade, but that didn’t phase us because we were young, and in love, and it was “ours.” But boy could it grow frost. Every six months, I took my hair dryer and a dagger-like knife and calved off an inch-thick layer of ice.
A few years later, after returning to college, collecting a computer science degree, and moving east to upstate New York, we rented a new condo with a new refrigerator. It was a Ford Focus sort of refrigerator: small, efficient, completely adequate. It neither screamed wealth nor poverty, but rather sat quietly in the corner gently humming while it worked.
At that time, the unpretentious refrigerator, which had served American families well for decades, went through a metamorphosis. Black became fashionable. Then stainless steel. Automatic defrost came standard. Financial differentiation was rendered explicit. Did it have a built-in cold water dispenser? An ice maker? And was that cubes or crushed?
And as we moved, and moved up, we said yes to all these things, and more.
In Colorado, success arrived in the form of a Sub Zero wide body delivered by a mule-team of burly men and wedged into a spot large enough to park a Volkswagen Beetle. Supersized shelves held gallon milk cartons. Enough mold grew across an array of Tupperware containers pushed to the nether regions to provide every seventh grader in our middle school with their own science project. Routinely, I consumed fifteen minutes searching for the Worchester sauce. It was a behemoth of a refrigerator which was so chock-a-block full of condiments that when we sold the house, I spent a day pulling out bushel barrels of jars, rinsing them, tossing them into recycling.
Which brings us back to the present: a refrigerator that slides effortlessly into a hole barely adequate for a toddler to park his tricycle. A refrigerator that by any measure is an abject failure: The literal shoebox sized freezer doesn’t self-defrost, instead the consequent drizzle creates its own rain forest ecosystem misting over the slab of butter, half pot of jam, and handful of greens. On the rare occasion when I must tug open the freezer, the seal of ice breaks and shards clatter to the floor. I drop to my knees and whisk them up before they melt. The single vegetable drawer is both tiny and cracked. I’ve already told you about the door shelf.
Yet my refrigerator serves me well. I can find anything I need within seconds and am forced to turn over its contents several times a week before mold or waste can be generated. My culinary extravaganzas are now limited to recipes that don’t require dabs of anything sourced from a bottle which must be refrigerated after opening.
In its own tiny way, my refrigerator is both teacher and muse. It is living testament to the difference between wants and needs and inspires me to buy fresh ingredients which fosters our good health.
It reminds me subtly of what really matters. And that life was actually never about the refrigerator.