When we came back from summer vacation I discovered that a creeping case of black mold had overtaken the refrigerator. The fridge was the one thing that stood unchanged for years, a silent witness to the events happening around it in our house. The toddlers that were growing to little boys and then into young teenage men. Our lives were reflected in its face and I hadn’t changed a thing on it for precisely that reason. It was one small space in the house where I could keep that time capsule frozen. Now the cruel march of time and kitchen bacteria was forcing me to move on.
I had one pang after another while uncovering the layers. There was a peace sign from elementary school and the pledges of hopeful youth – I will recycle and take care of the Earth. I will be a good citizen and member of my community. I will care for others. There were completely random stickers, placed when little ones were fascinated by the wonder of things that simply peel and stick, and you can put them anywhere, from back seat car windows, to clothes, to furniture, to fridges.
The poison control number that I called on numerous occasions and yet my children still grew to teenagers. That time when they ate the toothpaste, swallowed a bead, bit into the swirly water ball, or thought the window clings were fruit snacks.
A dinosaur magnet with the name of the local museum we visited so many times, during every period of youthful fascination: dinosaurs, planets, preserving the ecology and endangered species, the lemur project, chemical reactions, and even their growing interest in world history, art, and sculpture.
I was able to save the most precious items – a paper heart that said “I love you amy” from a time when I didn’t even think my son knew I had a designation other than Mommy. A hand cut and colored cupcake made for my birthday, when I didn’t even think my son knew what day that was. Other favorite drawings and scribbles that saved my life and gave me strength when they caught my eye on hard days.
Finally I had to scrape off the last remnant – a sticker of Winnie the Pooh from one of those calendars they give you at your shower to record your baby’s firsts. I had gone back in time a full 16 years. You would think I would have to sit down and catch my breath after that, but I felt peaceful. We all must accept time marching on, especially those of us who feel it so keenly while watching children literally sprout up several inches in a year. I am sanguine about where my kids are today. As my good friend Rosie said, “It just keeps getting better,” and I have to believe that even as I sit alone and they are out with friends, doing their teenage thing and moving into life on their own, as they should be.
After cleaning the offending mold off most of the fridge (it will be back in a few years, it always is, after lurking in the cracks that are unreachable by any tool invented by humans), I replaced the salvaged magnet collection. This is the culmination of our habit of buying one of those 2×3 tourist magnets at every place we’ve visited. And what a journey its been – we’ve seen canyons, mountains, beaches, the Liberty Bell, halls of fame, the Old North Bridge, and New York City. Battlefields and places where revolutions were born. Plays and jokes and moments of significance to our family. Our journey is not over, but I pass it on to the young men who will soon be covering their own fridges in memories.