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At the end of a trip, we came home to a dead refrigerator. Ugh! With just two thumps on the side it would start running and worked well...until it died again a few hours later. I insisted, “We don’t need a new refrigerator, I can fix this one.” She was skeptical, but I assured her, “I just need to take the back panel off and find the obvious loose connection.”
A week or so went by. I never did find time to make the repairs and a lot of food was being wasted. Meanwhile, my wife fired up the little refrigerator in the camper. That worked well for me. She, however, wasn’t going to settle for crossing the driveway in house slippers during the upcoming Minnesota winter weather to fetch milk for breakfast. She got online to start looking at new appliances. I helped by grumbling from the sidelines.
I wasn’t going to spend three or four grand on a refrigerator. “All I want is an ice and water dispenser in the door!” I said, resistant to buying a new fridge. “I don’t want a TV monitor, internet access or any of that fancy-pants stuff and I won’t have some high-falutin appliance telling me when I’m low on milk!” We decided on a very basic, side-by-side and it was only $827.
I went to Duluth the next day to pick it up and bring it home. Using an appliance dolly I brought it up on the back deck and unwrapped it. This baby was so cheap it didn’t even come in a box - just protective styrofoam corner pieces, shrink wrapped in plastic. “Refrigerators should come in boxes.” I grumbled to myself, feeling slighted.
As I pulled the plastic and removed the sticks of styrofoam, I thought about days long ago, when the girls were little. They loved refrigerator boxes. Every summer I would call Mike’s TV and Appliance: “Hey Mike, can I come get a big box?” He would laugh, “For the girls?” “Yeah,” I said, “School’s out.” Mike had a daughter. He understood where I was coming from. “Sure, come on over. If I don’t have a box, we’ll unpack a fridge for the display floor.”
The girls were always excited when I came home with a big box. I would put it in the backyard and grab my utility knife. Only Dad was allowed to use the razor sharp tool, so they would tell me where they wanted things and I would do the cutting.
We always started with the door. Sometimes the door had a window and sometimes not, but it always had a hole cut for a handle. Windows were made by cutting a capital I shape on the sides of the box. The girls could bend each piece back, leaving the sides attached, so they could be closed again like shutters.
O’Hara Hardware always had a quart or two of paint that was mixed a wrong color and I could pick them up for a buck or two each. I would give the girls a couple of old brushes and they would go to town painting their box anyway they wanted. When the paint dried, they would use fat sticks of bright, colorful sidewalk chalk to put the finishing touches on their house, club or fort.
They moved their small Playskool table and chairs into the cardboard building and would have neighborhood friends and cousins come over for secret meetings. Of course no boys were allowed - boys had germs! Sometimes the girls pulled the windows closed for privacy. I had no idea what plots they conjured up in there. Maybe they were planning to take over the world, or at least a Skittles candy plant. It was not for me to know; this was their special place where imaginations were allowed to run wild.
Eventually the rains would pour down on the box. It would settle, shrink and start leaning to one side then the other, slowly making its way to the ground. The deteriorating windows and doors no longer worked. The process reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West, when Dorothy, splashed water on the witch while trying to save Scarecrow from fire. “I’m melting!” The box seemed to cry as it was reduced to rubble.
The girls protested when I started to cut the box into pieces for disposal. They stood by crying, “But Dad, this was the best fort we ever made.” “We’ll get another box and you can build a better fort.” I promised them. Every box was their best ever.
I smiled, thinking about those days. It was getting late. Rain started to fall on the deck and the new refrigerator. I laughed, “Go ahead and fall, rain, you’re not going to melt this plastic and styrofoam.”
I had to remove the three-seasons room door from its hinges to get the big appliance inside the house. The doorway going into the kitchen is smaller, so the dining table and chairs had to be moved, clearing a path to the living room, leading to the kitchen door 5hat was wider. Pulling the fridge on the dolly through the dining room, I banged my head into the hanging light fixture that is normally over the table. After giving the light a good piece of my mind, I got the new ice box to the kitchen, setting it in place.
I strapped the old Maytag fridge onto the dolly and took it out to the the deck. Again, banging my head on the hanging light fixture in the dining room, which resulted in more cussing. I loaded the old appliance into the truck, then put the house back together.
In the kitchen, I connected the waterline and installed the new fridge. When I plugged it in and turned it on, my initial thought was, “This thing is loud!” The more I worked with the new unit, the more I noticed it was very cheaply built. Oh well. “It is what it is; you get what you pay for.” I said, then cleaned up and went to bed.
Shortly after midnight, I awoke to a loud noise in the kitchen. Being from Iowa, I immediately recognized the sound as a 1960’s John Deere tractor with a bad motor and a rusted out muffler. I ran to the kitchen to investigate. “Oh, it’s just the new refrigerator; it kicked on.” I returned to bed.
Around two a.m., there was a loud crashing noise. I assumed a large bird busted through the picture window in the living room; or, a bear broke down the back door. I jumped out of bed to investigate. “Oh, it’s just the new fridge dropping a load of ice cubes into the bin.” I went back to bed.
Through the night, I learned the fridge cycles on about once an hour, and drops a new load of ice about every ninety minutes. At 9 a.m., dead tired, I called the appliance store to let the salesman know I was bringing this refrigerator back! I told him we would upgrade to a different model. “Not a problem.” He said, “I’ll see you when you get here.”
I took our old Maytag refrigerator to the recycling place. I had to take the house apart again to get the new fridge out, across the deck and to the truck. I put the house back together again so wild creatures would stay out in the wild while we made another trip to Duluth. I banged my head on the hanging light fixture while pulling the big appliance through the dining room. “Ouch!” There was more cursing.
At the appliance store we found the model we wanted. A Maytag, side by side with water and ice in the door and nothing else. At $1,349, it was more than I wanted to spend, but well under the four grand price tag I feared. “We’ll take this one.” I said, “we’ll need it in black.” As luck would have it, they only had it available in stainless steel.
Melissa looked online. There was only one unit in black remaining, in the Baxter, Minnesota store; two and a half hours farther west, away from home. It was a discontinued model. That’s why it was so cheap and they couldn’t order another, or ship it between stores.
The next morning we drove to Baxter to pick up our new refrigerator. I backed up to the loading door. A man brought the appliance on a forklift to raise it up into my truck. The fridge came with protective styrofoam corners, shrink wrapped. “Are you kidding me? Not even a Maytag comes in a box anymore?”
Back at home I banged my head on the hanging light when I pulled the new/final Maytag through the dining room and into the kitchen. Being a slow learner, I cursed again! I connected the waterline and installed the new unit. I plugged it in, turned it on and she hummed along very quietly. “You get what you pay for.” I said, pleased with my decision to upgrade. I tossed the styrofoam pieces and plastic into a pile. “I still think refrigerators should come in a box.” I muttered.
Well, the kids are grown and out on their own, so I don’t know what I would do with that big box anyway. I’d probably ask June, “Do you want to go out in the yard with me and make the coolest dog house ever?” June would be excited, “Yes, it can be our club house; no cats allowed.”
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/tom.palen.98