Jewish World Review July 22, 2004 / 4 Menachem-Av, 5764

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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Consumer Reports

Something cold, something new | I've finally entered the Ice Age. In a weak moment, I bought a brand-new refrigerator that defrosts itself, automatically makes ice and has a modern finish that wipes clean.

The family's old Hotpoint, meanwhile, left to live with my friend Edwin Gray. Edwin recently built a new garage and thus was vulnerable for appliance adoption. He needs more cold storage for fish and beer, two of the major food groups.

I can sleep peacefully at night, knowing Edwin will take care of the old appliance, relieving me of the guilt I felt about letting go of such an heirloom. My parents bought the machine used more than 40 years ago, and someone in our clan has been defrosting the little silver freezer compartment every month for a long, long time.

First, of course, my parents used it. Then my brother borrowed it for his Alabama bachelor pad. When he married, my father hauled the old machine to my house in Georgia. And then Old Faithful made the move with me to Mississippi.

So I didn't give it up lightly. And it's not light to move.

But Edwin is someone who takes excellent care of all of his things. He puts his tools up at night, regularly washes his trucks -- he has two, one for Sunday and one for weekdays -- and even dusts the caps in his baseball cap collection.

I feel really good about the fate of the Hotpoint. I can visit it.

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My new refrigerator, meanwhile, fascinates me. It does things all by itself. I'm not sure how, and I don't care. It doesn't get quite as cold as the old one, but nothing's perfect.

If this refrigerator lasts half as long as the other one has, it should be around to store the green bean casseroles people bring around when I die. The many mourners will have plenty of ice to use as they swill their drinks and talk about what an oddball and pack rat I was.

Shopping for the refrigerator was an eye-opener. There are some models large enough to live in.

But I chose a relatively small appliance, not one of those mammoth side-by-side models that many consumers find appealing. I cannot abide radical change.

In my lifetime, the refrigerator is one of two utilitarian things that have grown inexplicably larger, out of all proportion, really, to their tasks. The other is the bathroom, which, in most new houses, could accommodate an airport crowd. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Even though I chose a small one, the new refrigerator looked huge and out of place. It was so white it hurt my eyes. The Hotpoint had mellowed to the color of old piano keys, a nice ivory patina. This one was blinding as a Florida beach.

So I immediately plastered the new machine with magnets and photographs, anything to make it appear more at home. I had plenty of material to work with; refrigerator magnets multiply like rabbits.

There was the magnet giving Mabel's heartworm shot due date, another from the Musée D'Orsay. Smokey Bear admonishes me to prevent forest fires, and the Iuka library reminds friends of a luncheon program.

A magnet for all seasons.

I used the eclectic magnet collection to attach fine artwork: a Mississippi moon drawn by nephew Scott, a New Yorker cover showing Ray Charles on the $10 bill, a favorite Arlo and Janis cartoon.

Then I added photographs, the ones I call my refrigerator babies. Newborns all look pretty much alike, but proud parents inevitably document a baby's least-appealing, red-faced look. At times I forget who some of them are. A few babies slip off undetected and go to live with the dust bunnies forever.

As a finishing touch, I crowned the refrigerator top with an Eiffel tower candle, a bowl of plastic tomatoes and a little statue of Franklin Roosevelt from Warm Springs, Ga. Voila!

I guess I'll get used to it. If not, maybe Edwin would be willing to work a trade.

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07/15/04: The simple life, Cajun style
07/08/04: You simply didn't strike out on family vacation in a dirty Buick
07/02/04: I fuss and cuss but know where my heart is

© 2004, Rheta Grimsley Johnson Distributed by King Features Syndicate