Humanities Commentaries on VPRPeter A. Gilbert's Look at Life through the Humanities
The Refrigerator Door (12-30-2015)
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Listen to this audio commentary on the Vermont Public Radio website.
A look at my parents’ refrigerator door reveals a good deal about them, both recently deceased. It reveals what mattered to them and calls out some of what they thought about as they went about their lives. That’s significant because, as Emerson observed, we are, in a sense, what we think about all day.
So what did they think of in the kitchen, the room where they did so much living? What did they want to be reminded of?
There were photos of family members, particularly grandchildren – at different ages and stages. There were photos of friends from around the world – France, Turkey, Kenya and elsewhere. Theirs was, in a way, a global family, in which their children were implicitly reminded that every man and woman is your brother and sister, and you are your brother’s and your sister’s keeper.
There were expressions of faith, reminders of their religious tradition that helped them manage the challenges of life and celebrate life’s joys. And expressions of political opinion – opinions that evolved over the decades, as the opinions of thinking people often do.
There were also cartoons: For years, including some when as many as three of their four children were in college at once, the avocado green fridge that was the rave during the Nixon administration boasted a cartoon of two businessmen walking by a disheveled man in a threadbare suit. One says to the other, “He’s not a pan-handler, he just has three kids in college.” It’s funny, but it also speaks of their sense of parental responsibility and their willing, loving sacrifice for their children.
For decades there was a cartoon of two older women with massive purses and sensible shoes looking down at a grave stone in a cemetery. One says to the other, “I told him it wouldn’t kill him to be nice, but I was wrong.”
Love and laughter. Humor and giving. Caring for family members and others. Striving to raise children who at least try to act decently and make some contribution.
Also on the fridge, which my father occasionally called “the ice box,” was a certain well-known corporate logo and the motto: “Just do it.” Raised in the Depression and under difficult family circumstances, my mother took it on as an expression of personal aspiration if not a personal motto. In her later years, she may have had it on the fridge for inspiration, too, as the challenges of age increased.
Of course, inside their fridge was food – delicious, healthy, home-cooked food that did not merely sustain lives, but also brought joy, and brought family together. And so, in a word, the outside and inside of the fridge tell much the same story.