on the refrigerator

Photos on the fridge by Tom Poland

The inventors of the components that make a refrigerator didn’t mean to build a museum and art gallery, but they did. I bet you cover your refrigerator with photos, mementos, and a few magnets that include everything from pizza parlors to emergency numbers to call. By far, the most popular images, I’ll wager, are those of loved ones, in particular, grandkids, and for many, pets.

Consider the refrigerator a photo album, Rolodex, museum, and gallery all rolled into one. Cobbled together in no order and held in place by magnets, the photos on Americans’ refrigerators amount to a tradition.

I should add no refrigerator is complete without children’s’ art. I had two cats once and the drawings my grandkids did of those cats not only made those gone-to-pet-heaven felines immortal, they make me smile every day. My deceased cats look more like squirrels on steroids, all stretched out yet ballooned up. I can’t look at the drawings without smiles and sadness too. A lot of time sure has passed.

I have no idea how this refrigerator photograph phenomenon came to be, but I admit it’s a hassle sometimes dealing with the pictures. They fall off all the time, and getting them to stay in place is difficult. Sometimes when I walk by a photo or drawing falls. Even so, I’ve never considered stripping all the photos off and placing them in an album or a box, but not long ago a friend was visiting and she said, “Don’t you think it’s about time you took down all those photos?”

I said, “Yeah, maybe so,” but I was lying. I have no intention of doing that. You see, my grandkids live four hours away to the west in Atlanta and four hours to the northeast near Raleigh. To get to Atlanta I have to drive 202 miles. To get to Raleigh I have to drive 205 miles. I’m in the middle of grandparent hell and I need those photographs on the refrigerator. Every day when I walk past that sixty-nine-inch Hotpoint I see them and it makes me smile, but it also makes me sad. Kids sure grow up in a hurry.

In my office I keep small tools such as jewelers screwdrivers, pliers, and multi-tools in a teak box. The top of that box has a recessed panel for a photo. In that panel is a photo of Ben, my oldest grandchild. He’s sitting on the steps of the first home my daughter and her husband bought up in North Carolina. He’s dressed as Simba the Lion King. So, that must have been in 1998 in a place called Fuquay-Varina.

It so happens that my daughter, Beth, and her family passed through Monday on their way to Florida. We had a rare treat: brunch together. Ben and his brother, Connor, did the driving to Columbia. Their sister, Katie, is twelve now and she’s the main reason they’re traveling to Orlando. She and her teammates have been invited to participate in a volleyball tournament there. Katie the cat artist is now an aspiring volleyball player who hopes to go to college on a scholarship. Connor is a thoughtful man with a big heart, and Ben has gone from Simba the one year old to a young man reflecting on which college he’ll attend. This column, you see, really isn’t about refrigerators and magnets; this column is about the speed with which children turn into adults. So, another reason I keep photos of the grandkids on my refrigerator is to see and reflect on how much these children have grown up. It amounts to a sort of time machine.

I don’t know when this American tradition started. I have no memory of my grandparents doing this. I guess in the early 1950s companies didn’t make those rubberized magnets so prevalent today. Nor do I remember any magnets taking the shape of states, tourist attractions, and football schedules. I suppose taping photos all over the side of a refrigerator got messy in time, if they did that even. I recall my Grandmother Poland regularly had us stand next to the doorframe of her bathroom and with a Phoenix Oil pencil she’d mark our height. All those pencil lines amounted to a kind of bar code that read off our ascent toward adulthood, just as refrigerator photos serve as a gallery of growth, I’ll call it.

Photos sure beat pencil marks. Right now I’m watching this accelerating age thing happen with Becky’s children, Mary Beth and Will. From infancy to toddler age to school to soon grown! Photos of the day they were born give way to photographs of them here at the house having fun. Mary Beth and Will, whom I call the Gabbas, a reference to a kids’ show they liked earlier in life are in Arizona as I write spending a wonderful month with their paternal grandparents. To me, though, they seem a lifetime away.

No, I doubt I ever take down those photographs. They serve as bittersweet reminders that, yes, another day just passed and the kids and I didn’t get to visit. And then the days become weeks. If your grandkids live close enough that you can see them in ten minutes, you shouldn’t ever gripe about anything. You are blessed. You don’t need pictures on your ice machine, but … I know you do.

As for me, a four-hour’s drive is one of those distances that’s too short to fly but long enough that you just can’t hop in the car and take off. My refrigerator, however, is just around the corner from where I’m writing this column. Certainly it’s no substitute for a real visit where I can hug the kids and sit down and talk. Today, however, was different. I got to see three of my five grandkids where I live, and that made today a very special day indeed. Before the summer is over, I’ll get to see Mary Beth and Will and that, along with other visits planned to Raleigh, will make the summer of 2014 a good one. No doubt the summer will yield a harvest of other wonderful refrigerator-bound images. (I need to buy some magnets.)

Two more notes. Learned types who study us and our habits, say they can predict how cluttered our house will be by how messy the photos are on our refrigerators. They say the average family has 55 “objects” stuck to its refrigerator. Well, they haven’t studied me yet. I probably have more “objects” than that and yet my house is in order and clutter free.

I hear, too, that those sleek stainless steel refrigerators won’t let you stick photos on them with magnets. The nickel content in stainless steel means magnets can’t get a strong enough grip. They slide off instead.

All my appliances are stainless steel except for my refrigerator, something that annoyed me to no end until I realized stainless steel is a magnet-free zone. I can live with the fact that my fridge is out of sync with my oven, microwave, and dishwasher. I’ll just cover it with more photographs and all will be right. Heck, if I cover it enough, visitors might fail to see that this thermostat-driven upright family album on wheels that chills and freezes things doesn’t match the other appliances. No, it just stands there warming the heart and making me more aware than ever that time is short and we all are far busier than we need to be.

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Photo by Tom Poland

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground. He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine. Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.” Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.<br /> Visit my website at <a href="http://www.tompoland.net">www.tompoland.net</a><br /> Email me at <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a></p> Visit his website at www.tompoland.net Email him at [email protected]