[I wrote this column originally for the local paper Feb. 15, 1998. If I had known then what I know now. . .well, see the last paragraph.]
Buying a refrigerator is certainly not what one would call a life-changing experience, but it was one those those “aha!” moments which, while it does not alter who and what you are, still gives one pause for thought.
I had never thought about refrigerators beyond the fact they were there -- in my grandparents’ homes, my parents’ home. My apartment had a refrigerator and stove furnished when I moved in. I also visualize them in one of those 1950s television family situation comedies.
Mom is always in a dress with a clean, white apron tied round her waist. The refrigerator and stove are pristine white and polished chrome, standing as sentinels to some domestic goddess in action. So, like most Americans, I believe refrigerators are a necessity of life. In order to preserve food, humanity has had to be creative -- the use of spices, root cellars and drying food has worked. Ice boxes were common at the turn of the century, but even then canning came about as a way to preserve food for longer periods of time.
The invention of refrigeration caused a revolution in our diets because when food can be preserved for a longer period of time, there is the opportunity for more variety.
Every refrigerator I had ever known had a freezer on top and the major storage on the bottom. That doesn’t take into account the individual freezers. I remember when the big chest types were popular. People didn’t get to the bottom of those freezers very often so it was difficult to know what you would find once you did decide to clean it out. And of course, there was always the warning to be careful your children didn’t fall inside and become trapped. The upright freezers were a real change for the better.
Moving from my apartment necessitated my buying a refrigerator. I didn’t have a clue as to what I really should be looking for. Now if I were a smart shopper, I would be looking at “Consumer Reports” to be sure I am getting the best product for my money, but that is not my way of going about things. I see something I like -- color, design, lay-out of shelves -- and I’m sold! So I set out one morning with Mom along -- I figured she knew a lot more about this than I did. Dad gave us his blessing and went back to more enjoyable pursuits.
I was under something of a deadline in this experience. I was moving into my house on a Monday, this was Saturday, and I needed somewhere to put my food, meager as it was. So I had figured I could probably find what I wanted that morning. Little did I know.
I looked at a couple dozen refrigerators. I opened and shut dozens of doors; I peered into freezers, water and ice dispensers, special storage areas for fruit and vegetables, for oleo or butter. I looked at shelves of all kinds. I heard salespeople talk about cubic capacity for food, colors available and how soon I could have it delivered to the house.
It suddenly dawned on me in all these inspections just how low refrigerators are built to the ground. I am tall and tire of bending over in the attempts to find something stashed at the rear of the fridge. I don’t use a freezer a lot, so having the freezer on top wasn’t quite what I wanted. The side-by-side models have lots of pluses, but I felt the storage space was limited on both sides, and I didn’t want a water dispenser.
Time was drawing a little short on Saturday when Mom suggested the freezer-on-the-bottom style, something she had seen at a neighbors and also read about. We found that model and it made so much sense for me I bought it. All my food is at waist level, and I bend over only when I occasionally use the freezer. Fortunately, I wasn’t into designer colors -- almond was just fine.
My next “aha!” moment was discovering they do not give refrigerators away. They are a costly item, but one of life’s necessities that we must “grin and bear.”
My refrigerator is nicely ensconced in my kitchen, and when I take friends and family through the house, it is fun to stop and show it off. I think they are a little puzzled as to why I think a refrigerator is so important. Certainly a refrigerator is a necessity, but the price makes it almost a luxury item -- which means you should be interested in its care and keeping. Also, those “aha!” moments are precious. They come in all shapes and sizes and at the most interesting times.
2016 --O.k., now the kicker! The lovely refrigerator I bought in 1998 lasted about 5 years and at its death I purchased another refrigerator. This one lasted another 5-8 years before it too gave up the ghost. My this time I was talking about refrigerators through clenched teeth. I walked into a local hardware and started looking for a third time. I suddenly stumbled on a unit for a college dormitory. Minuscule freezer but space for a variety of food items. The manager was startled when I said, "I'll take it", and had him take it out to my car. That unit is still in use in my house, much to the amusement of family and friends alike. It is enough. I am amazed with some judicious shifting of items I can put in a great many items. I have learned to eat the food I have before I buy more. For one person it is a perfect solution. I did eventually buy a mini chest freezer and that is a nice plus. But otherwise what a delight! Life is just grand!!