Tell me about your rescue dog. Tell me about your pandemic experience. I’ll tell you about my fridge.
Tell me about the fort you made from pillows and sheets as a kid. Tell me about the time you made an entire meal from new recipes, trying to make it special. Tell me about your favorite shirt, the one you always hand-wash, and I’ll tell you about my propane fridge.
How it went on the fritz and froze a bottle of white wine. The pale glass separated in an S, an inch of frozen wine showing naked, like a torso. Beer cans froze too, new beer bellies distorting their aluminum tops. I scooted on knees with a flashlight, pressed a button until my thumb went numb, while peering at a glowing miniature corncob that should have looked like a toothbrush. The flame wouldn’t take hold. Because after some show-off moment of over-achievement, the fridge’s pilot light was dead.
Tell me about your fifth-grade project in which you made shoes from natural materials. It took work, didn’t it? And a few tries. And then in retrospect, it was fun, and you were actually slightly proud. Tell me about the sweater you started knitting that turned into a vest. Tell me about the kale you grew and then how you ate around its caterpillar-holes. With plenty of butter, it tasted—well, like kale and butter. And I’ll tell you about getting the fridge fixed.
The seller wouldn’t fix it. “It was $1200, you told me it was reliable, the only way to cool our food off-grid.” “Well,” the seller said, a terminal statement. The manufacturer, in Canada, emailed me sporadically to guess at a diagnosis. We put our food in rat-proof bins and carried them outside when it was cooler out than in, and inside when it was cooler in than out. Weeks stretched to months stretched to seasons. We called the repair places in town, forty miles away. They didn’t fix that brand. In fact, they rarely fixed propane fridges. Finally, I appeared in person. The elderly woman leaned across the counter. “It’s propane,” she said, a sparkle in her eye. “Go to Southside RV.”
Tell me about how your two kids did school in the living room, sitting back to back, their teachers talking to the front of one head and the back of the other. But the kids managed, actually. Somehow. And you did too. In some ways, it was good. Tell me about the wedding in Italy you didn’t get to go to and how you went through a shoebox of family photos instead. Tell me about adjusting everything—your whole life, making do with less income, jostling with the family, home cooking and cleaning your own house–and I’ll tell you about Southside RV.
“Sure. We do propane all the time. Bring it in.” Bring it in? That flawless white box that was moderately well-balanced on our log cabin floor? I’ll tell you: it fell off the dolly twice, the second time burying its back-business into the gravelly mud. “Transport it upright, will save us a lot of time,” they’d told us. Upright? We got it upright, all right. The rain was beginning to freeze. We got it wrapped and roped. We drove slowly on the curves. At Southside RV, the guys took it into an open bay. “Needs a new pilot, at least,” they said. “But it’s freezing out, so we’ll have to wait.”
Tell me about getting to know the neighbors because their kids were close in age to yours. Tell me about the college kid who offered to pick up whatever you needed at the store. Tell me about the nurse across the street who called to see if you were all right, told you about her day at the hospital, and even asked about your dad. And I’ll tell you that two weeks later, two men, not all that large, loaded, wrapped, and tied the fridge, upright, into our truck. And we drove home happy.
I won’t tell you for how long it worked perfectly before another wine bottle showed its torso and the olive oil, inexplicably in the fridge, became a solid white. I won’t tell you how careful we were the second time we hauled it in to town, because we weren’t. We put some cardboard in the truck, shoved the fridge in on its side, and drove straight to Southside RV with no preliminary polite phone call.
And tell me about the medical team that did their best and then some. Did you appreciate them before? I’m sure you did, but did you really, really appreciate them before?
When we came home with the fridge the second time, I did what the not all that large men told me: I paid attention to it. I defrost it every time it gets an ice pack of a certain bulk over those metal cooler fins. I lift a wire and drop a twirly metal plumb into the pilot light exhaust tube, fluttering off any ash. I clean the gaskets, dry the fins, rub every square inch inside with sponges and cloths, then put it all back together and push the button. Then I clean the outside, dings, scrapes, and all. I know the knob and fins. I know every square inch. I’ve worked on it. I put some work into it and it works.
Tell me something about your past year. Tell me about your rescue dog, the one that rescued you. Tell me. Tell me.
And if you can’t tell me anything, then I’m sorry for you. I think you’ve had a chance to learn something out by now.