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JoEllen column

FEB 17

February 19, 2002

Ode to your refrigerator

By JoEllen Barnhart


Every company has its nerve center. The true hot spot where all major decisions are made, plans are formulated and great accomplishments are shared. In the home, the nerve has a nickname: The fridge.

Yes, the humble refrigerator. The first practical home-use refrigerator appeared in Chicago in 1913, called the Domelre. That's French for: "giant metal box for sticking pictures and notes on, si'l vous plait."

Take a close look at your fridge. What does it say about you? Is the front of it clean of any notes about class projects or veterinary appointments? Does it lack a post-dated lottery ticket from August 2001? Could your refrigerator actually have a clear opening for the ice dispenser? If so, all of your children are grown up and you are ready to buy a motor home to tour Iowa.

My family's refrigerator serves so many purposes. The primary purpose is to keep food cold. But ours has also become home to many science experiments involving cheese and some sort of odd colored hair.

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And, it's also a testing ground. The test is to see how many empty one-gallon containers can be packed inside before anyone will bother to throw them out.

Now back to the true mission of the big, white, double-doored behemoth: To magnetically hold as much information as the CD-ROM version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. More of life's lessons are learned from the scribbled notes, colored paper and wipe off marker boards than you can shake a celery stick at.

Take for instance, my friend Trish K. She clearly understands the concept of maximizing space. Trish K. had to step up to the 28.5 cubic foot model frig just to get enough front door space for the latest installment of public school calendars, the Do-A-Good-Deed chart and the yellowed newspaper clipping of her triumph in a golf tournament from 1984.

Trish K., like most moms, knows the front of the refrigerator serves as the most cherished art gallery in the world. When a beaming face presents their latest masterpiece, there's only one place it can possibly go. There, on the front of the refrigerator. Held delicately in place by three magnets shaped like bunches of grapes and hearts.

Not long ago I worked on a market research project for a company that makes lids, or tops, for convertibles.

One of the questions we asked convertible drivers, "List the contents of a refrigerator found in the home of a convertible owner." I swear. Big dollars were spent to find out the answer. Why? Because the contents of a refrigerator tell a lot about the people it serves.

With three growing boys and a constant stream of growing friends roaming through our home, we can't stuff enough milk, orange juice, apple juice, soda and peanut butter into our refrigerator.

And, the freezer section of our kitchen refrigerator only holds enough food for one round of breakfast waffles.

I mean, they don't make household refrigerators large enough for a male infested family of five and their friends. Technology is just not that advanced yet. So we now own three refrigerators and three freezers of various colors and sizes.

My favorite refrigerator is the 1970s mustard colored model we have displayed in our garage. We devote more space to storing everything but the car in our garage. The yellow mustard ice box also makes a shelf for the fake brown, wood-grain mini fridge I still own from my college days.

In my house the refrigerator gets more attention than any other appliance. My husband and children certainly pay more attention to it than the washer and dryer (big surprise).

Like my friend Trish K, it's the place where we seem to be searching for something all the time. Whether we need to find an important phone number, grab a water bottle, hunt for leftovers, check the school lunch menu, grab the purple ketchup or find out if we are a lottery winner, the answer to just about everything is usually found in, or on, the fridge.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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