The Refrigerator


This is part one of a two-part post. Although written in the middle of March Madness, it is as pertinent today as it was then. The only thing that’s changed is that in the summertime, the only one to meet me at the door in the afternoon is Paisley, and the irony is I miss the madness.  Go figure!

I am not ashamed to say that sometimes after I pull the car into the garage from a day at the office, I don’t jump right out and go into the house. Sometimes, I sit and take long, deep breaths before walking through my own front door. On an average day, I expect to be hit with a tsunami-like wave of issues needing prompt attention. It’s almost an out-of-body experience. My true-self hovers behind a haggard looking woman with mostly red hair standing with purse in one hand, the morning’s old coffee cup in the other. She has on sensible shoes and her shoulders sag. Cartoon word balloons bubble up all around her, like a pop-up video, filled with bits and pieces from the seven year old who jumps up-and-down and the thirteen year old who sits at the kitchen table doing homework. All this while Paisley barks and runs around me in circles. Every day this woman whispers through the cacophony, “Where is your father?”

Usually, those cartoon-bubbles are full of the same basic word combinations: “What’s for dinner?” “He won’t play with me.” “I hate homework.” “I can’t find my lucky rock.” “I got my clip moved two times today, but my teacher says tomorrow we start over, so don’t be mad.” “Can I go shoot basketball before supper?” “Mom, seriously, what’s for dinner?” “I’m starving.” “I’m supposed to bring cupcakes tomorrow for school.” “You forgot to sign that paper yesterday, so don’t forget today, ok?”   I can handle it all. No problem. I am Mom. Hear me roar.

Last night though, when I came home late from a meeting after work, I knew something was amiss. It was quiet. Maybe they didn’t hear me come in?? I stood in the kitchen listening for sounds of life. Where were they?

That’s when it hit me. What was that smell?? An unlikely combination of old shoes and rotten cabbage hung heavy in the air, like the smell in the bottom of a vase when you’ve inadvertently left cut flowers to die on the kitchen table – all green and watery with gooey decomposition. I stood in the silence a minute and spotted a lavender candle burning on the counter by the refrigerator. I heard a basketball game on television coming from the living room. I was definitely not alone.

We are currently smack-dab in the middle of March Madness. For my three fellas, this is a huge deal. There are approximately 50 different brackets floating around our house and at this point, Jamie and Jack have a 1/200,000 chance of correctly picking any combination. Marshall’s surprise win broke their brackets wide-open, and Kentucky’s loss almost sent those two into some sort of convulsion. With great trepidation, I put down my coffee mug and tiptoed into the living room.

Jamie sat like a proud lion in his chair, no children to be seen. “Hey, babe. Colin has had his bath. Jack has done his homework. Everybody has already had supper, but I left the smell for you. Good luck with that,” Jamie ticked off these little tidbits as if they were written on a checklist. I suspected he’d practiced.

I was still holding my purse, car keys inside. I could’ve run away. They’d have never found me. They’d have all died from the gosh-awful smell, but I’d have escaped.  I knew in my heart, I’d missed my chance. I should’ve turned around before we made eye-contact, when I first saw the lavender candle. Now I was in for the duration. I didn’t even change my clothes. I put down my purse and got to work. Every mother’s favorite pastime – cleaning out the refrigerator.

The refrigerator and I have a love-hate relationship. I appreciate the fact that it keeps our food cold. I do not appreciate the fact that it pees on the floor.

It happened first with the refrigerator that was in the house when we bought it. We would come through the kitchen and find a small, shallow puddle of water to the right of the refrigerator door. For a long time, I thought it was melted ice that had fallen from the freezer while icing glasses. Then, friends told us the drip pan was probably missing. It wasn’t. Eventually we bought a new fridge.

Within two days of new-fridge install, we had a puddle. At this point, I’m willing to concede it is not the refrigerator’s fault. At this point, we suspect a faulty waterline. There are other clues that indicate waterline, too. Sometimes we have ice, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the ice cubes are completely formed, beautiful, little half-circles. Sometimes they are suggestions of a circle, but more like sharp shards that melt in your glass within seconds which is disappointing if your heart is set on a cold fizzy Coke.

We have all learned, each after falling a couple of times in the super-slick refrigerator tinkle, to look for it before we just sashay into the kitchen. At this point in our relationship, I hate the refrigerator and its stupid puddle, but I really need cold pinot grigio. So, here we are. And there I stood on a Thursday night, in my nicest pearls and black tailored work slacks, a miserable Inspector Gadget of funky smells.

I grocery shop just like my mother. Every grocery trip, she buys kidney beans, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and some sort of pasta. Doesn’t matter if she needs it, she buys it. If Daddy is with her, he throws a jar of Duke’s mayonnaise in the buggy for good measure. Should a small army find themselves in Elmodel and low on provisions, Mama could feed them on a moment’s notice. She doesn’t like to be caught without casserole makings of some kind, and can whip up a hot dinner to take to a friend without perspiring. (Ladies do not sweat.)

Like most neurotics, I take my grocery compulsion one step further than Mama. Not only do I buy kidney beans and tomato sauce every time I go to the grocery store, but I buy perishables, too. Every single time I grocery shop, I allow myself to ignore the realities of what my family and I actually eat, and instead I buy what we should be eating.

I always buy hummus, even though I’m the only one in the house that eats it. I convince myself this will be the week I will take the time to spoon a daily serving of hummus into one of those cute Rubbermaid containers that only hold three tablespoons of something. I also purchase the obligatory dip-able baby carrots, pre-packaged in snack-size plastic bags which I fully intend to pack in my lunchbox- and yet, somehow never do. I also toss in a package of fresh, organic salad greens, because I know I will eat a salad from home for lunch every day of the following week. This rarely ever happens, and yet, I buy the salad greens. And the hummus. And the baby carrots.

I also buy yogurt for Jack and me. Jack likes Yoplait, but I can only choke down Fage with cherries or honey. I don’t like yogurt, but feel I should eat it because I’m of the age I should be mindful of my calcium intake.  I hate swallowing pills more than I hate yogurt, so yogurt it is (or, actually isn’t.)

Needless to say, in searching for the smell, I threw all of those outdated refrigerated items away and with every toss, guiltily pictured money in $5 and $10 increments being slid through a shredder.

I also threw away a Ziploc bag of liquefied bell peppers, moldy cheese, two unopened containers of half-and-half from the holidays (Christmas) and at least fifteen opened jars of pickles. I don’t even eat pickles.

I took out and disassembled all the drawers and shelves, washing them in warm soapy water. I sprayed down the inside of the fridge with 409, which I’m sure I’ll find out in two weeks is a known carcinogen, and wiped the whole thing out with paper towels. I was sweaty and breathing hard, but incredibly proud of myself. So proud, I even called Mama to brag on my good deed.   (I didn’t mention the smell. That would be embarrassing!)

Jamie even moved the monster away from the wall so I could mop the floor underneath. After finishing well after 9pm, the refrigerator sparkled. Yet, somehow I’m afraid the smell remains.

If the smell lingers tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to clean out the refrigerator freezer. That means throwing out the brown bananas that I told Jamie not to touch because I was definitely going to make banana bread – someday; the pound of rolled Jimmy Dean sausage that Jamie wrapped in a dishtowel to use as some sort of redneck neck-massager to try and relieve headache pain, thereafter dubbing that package the “Neck Sausage” that cannot be consumed; and about 10 packages of Dole smoothie mix that I know I should make and drink, but don’t. I hate smoothies.

All of that can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, I tucked in the babes, changed into my favorite old, soft NASCAR t-shirt and my pair of yoga pants with the completely shot elastic waistband. My feet are up as I sip a perfectly chilled glass of pinot grigio from the bottle which I took out of my picture-worthy, almost Kardashian-like refrigerator, and I pray that when I come home from work tomorrow there will be the normal tsunami of questions and exclamations from the children and no lit lavender candles on the countertop.

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