Ihad never thought of the notes on my refrigerator door as personal and sensitive until a recent visit from my California cousin, Janice.
Shortly after she arrived, we headed to the kitchen for lunch. She immediately was drawn to a disorganized array of magnets and clutter affixed to the refrigerator.
Studying my appointment cards, receipts, recipes, memos, photos, schedules and other reminders, she exclaimed, "You had Frosty killed!"
Defensive, I said, "Frosty had gone deaf. Maybe you didn't know she'd also been blind for a couple years."
Janice stood before the receipt marked Euthanasia Services, $116. "Poor Frosty," she said. "Did you try a cochlear implant?"
"No," I said guiltily. "Putting her down was the kindest thing . . . Okay if we eat? Soup's getting cold."
Ignoring me, she asked, "How long have you been dying your hair?"
"Dying my hair?"
"Here!" She tapped impatiently on the refrigerator. "A rebate for Grecian Formula."
"Oh, that? I'm not sure how long."
She asked, "Why are you seeing a physical therapist?"
"Pilates classes can be hard on backs. Better check it out."
"How do you know I'm doing Pilates?"
She tapped another receipt: Twelve Pilates classes, $86.
The interrogation persisted as Janice continued to scan. And to fire questions. "What's wrong with your teeth?"
"Nothing. My teeth are fine."
Again, she pointed. "You have an appointment with an oral surgeon."
"Just an implant. Nothing more."
"Nothing more? It's not an abscess, is it?"
"An implant is all. It's -- "
"Because," she interrupted, "you've got this prescription for penicillin." Once again she tap, tap, tapped on the door. "You'd better get it filled. You don't want to mess around with an abscess."
Eventually Janice made her way to the table. We finished soup and salad, and I was pouring coffee when she started again. "I thought you didn't eat red meat."
"Well, you have that logo magnet from the Outback. That's a steakhouse."
Mumbling something about fish entrees, I suggested we adjourn to the family room where I had nothing more personal than a TV.
That evening, I thought about how uncomfortable I had felt with her questions. But I now realized that anyone invited into the kitchen was offered keyhole views of my life story. By hanging my daily activities on my refrigerator, I had inadvertently presented myself for scrutiny and conjecture.
Yet, no one else had prowled about the refrigerator or launched an inquest, and this included friends who had visited me for years. Of course, my magnetic bulletin board would have been stale bread to them. But was it possible that friends still had the same questions as Janice (gulp!), but were too polite to probe?
This possibility unsettled me, because on my door were 52 magnets, each holding snippets that report the lowdown about me. Clues about my character, my integrity and my neuroses abound. Sigmund Freud would have been positively gleeful.
So what do friends really think? That I'm insincere for hiding gray hair? Or insecure? Or vain? Maybe I'm dismissed -- an aging coot who euthanizes pets and makes health rounds to dentists, drugstores and physical therapists.
Still, the magnets have been broadcasting my innards for decades. Invitations for dinner and bridge continue to trickle in. My phone calls are returned. No harassing threats or one-finger salutes come my way.
Feeling calmer calm now, I conclude that Janice was neither as judgmental nor as disapproving as her blunt questions intimated. Her directness was likely due to being family with its assumed license to know. Indeed, her goodbye hug and whispered words -- sorry about Frosty -- showed caring.
Perhaps her underlying sentiments are shared by friends. I hope so.