When I was growing up in Kentucky, an enormous wooden box with chrome handles on its many doors crouched in the back pantry, a dark room that I felt was not really safe. Why? Probably just the darkness, the many closed cupboards, and the icebox, which I didn’t know how to name.
I don’t believe I ever dared to open it. Cordie, our cook, had access to it, as though through a secret password. Once a week a man would arrive in a truck and carry a big block of ice with a pair of enormous metal tweezers up the back stairs and insert it into the tray under the box. Slowly over the course of a week it would melt, meanwhile keeping the contents of the box at least slightly cool, even in the hellish summer heat before air conditioning.
When I came into possession of my own icebox, it was, of course, a refrigerator, gleaming white, murmuring away in my first grown-up kitchen. Perhaps because I had been frightened of the icebox at home, I took possession of the refrigerator with determination. Every shelf had to be spotless, and I needed to know each item stocked, its purpose and its final disposal.
Then came the long years of boys, little, large, and grown, and I still struggled to keep control of my refrigerator even while it was overflowing with strange leftovers, drinks and snacks of which I didn’t approve; the struggle to control the contents was endless—did you throw out my pizza?—and was not a struggle I could win, but I didn’t recognize that at the time. So much energy wasted on controlling the contents of a cold white box!
When my youngest son came to visit recently, I stopped looking inside the refrigerator, it was all his. Since he loves to shop for food, it was soon filled with things I would never buy: mysterious sugary drinks, large forbidding steaks. It didn’t matter. I was finished with controlling the contents.
I admit that when he left, I went through the remains and threw them out. I was sad that he had left before he had consumed all he had bought, but at the same time I felt the enormous relief of letting it all go—that harsh lesson that becomes even more harsh when we resist it.
Now my refrigerator is back to its pristine condition: a box of almond milk. But the fact of its emptiness has another meaning now.