Someday, perhaps, icebox doors will take their rightful place in the world. They will be included in the permanent exhibit at the National Museum of History and Technology, buried in time capsules deep under the foundations of new skyscrapers, written about, catalogued and analyzed.
To what does the icebox--I refuse to use other words like "refrig"-- owe its central place in family life? To its proximity to the phone? To its gleaming, unbroken white (or harvest-gold) surface? To its ability to attract magnets?
These are the deep, philosophical questions to be dealt with by committees in downtown Washington hotels. What follows is a modest attempt to describe this rich, unruly field. And, of course, to pay tribute to all the icebox-door artists of the world who even now may be fingering some ad or picture to tear out to add to their arrangement.
Messages and miscellaneous. "Jenny, don't forget to take your leotards to school, and remember, Mrs. Ellis will pick you up at 4:30."
It is to hold up such messages, of course, that the icebox was invented. The purpose of messages is not necessarily to inform and remind, but to protect ourselves from guilt. After all, once a message has been put on the icebox door, it's not our fault if Jenny persists in forgetting her leotards. Why else would we spend our lives scribbling out messages like "Feed Cat"?
The basic list is the list of phone numbers, and those of our friends yield fascinating insights. Just where does our name come on their list? What is that scrawled in pink felt-tip at the bottom, "Rudolfo"?
Some lists are closer to fantasy than reality and might be considered a record of a family's highest aspirations. These include lists of errands to be run the next available Saturday, repairs to be made to the house.
Other lists, our deepest anxieties: antidotes for poisons (does anyone really stop to mix up peroxide, water, mineral oil and copper sulfate? Does anyone even have these things?), the P-TA's worst (and your children's favorite) TV shows, the cereals with the highest (and your children's favorite) sugar content.
All icebox doors contain stray photos, clippings, cartoons and slogans by which you can analyze the political, social and economic philosophies of their owners. These are usually relieved by examples of their children's artwork, so you can recover from the shock of discovering that your new friend has an anti-feminist slogan on her icebox by enjoying her daughter's rendering of Batwoman rescuing the president from a bunch of ugly monsters.
Rules. Who among us hasn't at some point in our experience as a parent made up a chart of approved and disapproved behaviors to be marked with stars? You know, the charts that take at least 10 different colors of felt markers, rulers, a whole bunch of gummed stars of different colors and sizes and hours of false starts before the spaces and categories are all properly lined up.
You know how it all ends. The child goes merrily on with his life while you spend yours poring over the chart, wondering if a frown and a significant look equal a third warning or not since you didn't say anything. Finally you decide on half a green star, with a footnote added to the chart about Significant Looks and Half Stars, and suddenly you realize that the chart is holding only one person to rigid behaviors and that is YOU.
Self-Improvement Projects. There are self-improvement schemes you could put on your icebox door, things like 20 Greek words found in everyday language, a simple yet definitive delineation of the difference between microcosm and macrocosm, the major painters of the Ashcan School.
But probably the most common adult self-improvement project to appear on the icebox door is the diet. Its evidence comes in many forms: simple notes like "Do not open this door," lists of approved foods--"Water, Grapefruit"--possibly a picture of yourself as you never want to look again or a picture of how you want to look, like Meryl Streep, for example, in "The French Lieutenant's Woman."
One of the most common projects for improvement to appear on the icebox door are those aids to education: magnetic letters. Usually these appear soon after you see signs of propensities to read in other toddlers, like singing Sesame Street jingles about the letter "G." The letters appear before your child falls helplessly behind.
Soon the icebox is festooned with wonderful displays of parental spelling skills, like "DOG," and little sentences so charming that a child will acquire reading skills just to savor them: "SARAH IS A GOOD GIRL," "ROBBIE IS VERY BRAVE." And there's the delight when a child picks up a handful of letters and arranges something like "MOT" and the mother rushes to add the "HER" saying, "Yes, darling, 'MOTHER,' oh, I'm going to call Daddy . . ."
Eventually, of course, all the letters end up in the greasy dust under the icebox where, in bursts of conscientiousness, they get picked out and washed off. Over the years, the letters slowly disappear. The kids whose reading you once agonized over, write messages to each other with whatever is at hand, like "TOM TINKS."
By the time the kids are teen-agers, you are left with four miserable letters, "W,Y,G,E" and always, as you go about cooking, in the back of your mind you fret over these letters, trying to come up with one real word: "WEG"? "GEY"? "YGE"?
A burning issue. No survey of icebox doors is complete without a bold reference to the central controversy: tape or magnets? (Writing directly on the icebox door is out, unless the message has permanent significance, like, "Grow up to be fine people!")
We all know we shouldn't use tape, that long after the cellophane comes off the gunky stick-um still will be there turning black with the accretion of dirt, leaving the icebox door covered with tacky black rectangles. We know we should use magnets, and a whole industry of $5 magnets has grown up on our guilt about tape. But we also know that every third slam of the door dislodges them and everything slides slowly down the door.
Why can't icebox doors come covered in something that takes into account their real function? Something like cork, burlap, slate or that green blackboard stuff? Or, at the very least, some stick-um-proof, easy-clean surface?
But don't expect us not to put things on icebox doors. We might try a blank white door, but it wouldn't last long. Slowly, bits of paper would start appearing. Messages like, "Get some tape."