Small Wonders: Saying goodbye to a cold friend

I knew there was trouble when I opened the garage and saw the ominous trail of fluid upon the floor, like blood from a victim's gunshot wound. Something terrible had happened; a sense of dread came over me.

Let's start from the beginning.

Besides the couch that daily withstands the abuses of Thing 1 and Thing 2, a microwave oven and various other household items, my wife and I bought a refrigerator early in our marriage. It was our first joint major appliance purchase.

It solidified a long-term commitment not only to creditors, but also to each other. By buying this together, it says, we promise to live with it and each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We're not a high-maintenance couple. Our appliances need not have rolled off a German assembly line and road-tested on the Autobahn. It was a simple refrigerator: white, freezer on top, fridge below, two drawers. No ice maker or water dispenser. Just a fridge.

But it became so much more.

After some years in the kitchen, it was relegated to the garage in our last move, becoming our secondary cold storage. For a family of four, it was nice to have a place for things that would otherwise clutter the in-house icebox. Stocked before backyard parties, it gave visitors easy access to drinks.

On hot days in the pool, it's where you got a cold one so you wouldn't trail water through the kitchen. It was my liquid oasis while working under the hot sun. And that intense sun was, I believe, its demise.

During the scorching September heat wave that recent rains have cast from our memory, I opened my garage to that most unpleasant sight. A blast of sickly hot air washed over me as the garage door rose; a hot box exhaling in relief. But it was too late for the refrigerator baking within that sauna. Wheezing achingly, his life-fluids drained from him.

Yes. It was a him. Where boats, barbecues and hurricanes — until more metrosexual times — get feminine identities, the garage fridge can only be male. Why? Because he held everything that made me feel like a guy. He was my porter; my squat, tough, quiet Himalayan porter, carrying everything I put on him with dignity, grace and servitude. Asking only to be plugged in, he held my burdens along with my porterhouse and rib-eye.

He stored meats and steaks, my bounty from hunting trips to the butcher. Bottles of beer accumulated over time in wide variety. Coke in glass bottles smuggled in by mules from Mexico and sold at Costco. Butter, not margarine. The White Zinfandel I'm forced to buy for my sister but won't allow in my house. Wild Koho salmon caught by my friend Jim in the glacial rivers of Alaska's backcountry, vacuum-packed and doled out to his lucky neighbors. Whole chickens — fryers and roasters — three kinds of Italian sausage and two boxes of those fish sticks with the ruddy, dependable fisherman on the logo. I even had buffalo ribs in there.

All gone.

His presence in my garage is something I took for granted. We do that to our loved ones; their consistency in the background of our lives makes us complacent. I knew he was always there for me. Each time I opened the garage, he had something to offer: beer, red meat and dependability. And now … and now he's gone, and I'm left with this phantom urge.

I made chili the other day, and chili must be made in quantity. Feed half to my family tonight, and store half in the garage freezer for a cold winter's night. I got to the back door before the realization set in. It was a heavy feeling in my gut the size of a tri-tip roast.

"He's gone," the wife said sympathetically to my back. I couldn't turn to face her. Sure, I could squeeze it into the kitchen freezer next to the dumplings, frozen peas and bagel bites. But it's just not the same.

When I found him in that condition that horrible day, I attempted resuscitation. Unplugged him and plugged him back in repeatedly, hoping for a jolt of defibrillation. Cleaned the grates. Turned the knobs from "cold" to "coldest" and back again over and over. Nothing.

My garage fridge is dead.

A while back I hung a bottle opener on a string right next to him for convenience. It's a bottle opener I purloined from a bar in the Andes while en route to the Inca Trail with the woman who would become my wife. He loved that story.

I took the bottle opener down, put it in a drawer and walked out of the garage, leaving him unplugged.

Adios, amigo. You will be missed.

PATRICK CANEDAY thanks you for your condolences. He can be reached on Facebook, at http://www.patrickcaneday.com and patrickcaneday@gmail.com.

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