The first house I bought did not come with a refrigerator, and two friends, Meredith and Ian, were kind enough to donate their old one, a truly old one, faded white and round. Its shape reminded me of a Studebaker pickup truck for which I still yearn, whose humpbacked cab and color put me in mind of Moby Dick. I used to glimpse it on the streets of San Antonio, but I could never catch up with it.
The refrigerator, alas, did not last long. But I loved it so that I kept it in the backyard — padlocked, of course. At some point, I was inspired to start writing favorite first and last lines on its side. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, my Lolita.” (Not truly the first line.) “[T]hat’s nice, that’s real nice, but I knew a place once where the lights were brighter, and the air was filled with dreams.” (The last line of “Emma Who Saved My Life,” an all-time fave.) Rafael Alvarez added “Fat Curt is on the corner.” There was Marjorie Morningstar and Philip Roth. (“Now vee may, perhaps to begin. Yes?”)
The neighbors did not like the refrigerator. They reminded me, pointedly, that bulk trash was coming through. I bowed to the communal standards, which decreed that old refrigerators, no matter how literary, led to cars on blocks, which led to — well, wherever such homeowner worst-case scenarios lead.
Two lines should have been on the refrigerator, but were not. Both were written by Iowa grads — Gail Godwin and John Irving, to be precise — and both come at the end of wonderful party scenes that are almost Shakespearean in scope.
From “A Mother and Two Daughters,” after Nell (the titular mother) mulls over her life, sees how all these people on the mountaintop are connected to her and her late husband, and then blushes at the thought of just how happy her new husband makes her:
“Oh my, look, thought Dickie, who happend to glance at this grandmother as he launched into a duet with the horn, we’ve made her rapturous with our playing.”
And from “The Water Method Man,” in which Fred “Bogus” Trumper’s loved ones, old and new, celebrate Thanksgiving. (Trumper has his own Moby Dick issues, which play into the last line.) “Mindful of his scars, his old harpoons and things, Bogus Trumper smiled cautiously at all the good flesh around him.”
I hope the holidays found you, smiling cautiously at good flesh, or blushing at the memory of new flesh. And I hope that you have a place to keep cherished lines, first and last, that the neigbhors do not deem a threat to their property values.