Burn it Down!


On my motherís refrigerator door, thereís an old black-and-white photograph of the two of us standing in front of the same refrigerator when it was new. The picture was taken more than forty years ago, in our kitchen back home. Weíre both smiling. Iím leaning back against her apron; sheís bending slightly and has her arms draped over my shoulders. To our right is the sink and the tiled drain board. Iím holding onto the tile at the front edge of the sink with my hand.

In those days, there were no pictures on the refrigerator, no magnets, no reminders or schedules. It was shiny-white and clean. Now itís home to a jumbled gallery that forms a partial record of family visits, friendships, and past generations.

The refrigerator was our second one. The first, a Hotpoint my parents bought from a man named Marashlian in 1951, wasnít big enough. We had voracious appetites and a lot of company, so we needed two refrigerators. The old Hotpoint is still working. Itís in my motherís garage. It needs to be defrosted.

I donít know anything about the refrigerator that came before the Hotpoint, but it couldnít have been anything too rugged, or it would have gone through the floor of the rickety old shack my father bought for 500 dollars and had hauled in before the family home went up in 1954. In the old house, when the wind blew, the wallpaper rattled and mouse droppings fell onto the counter. My two older brothers were lucky enough to live in the old house. I wasnít. I was born in the lap of luxury. The new house had lath-and-plaster walls and a swamp cooler.

There is a funny story about the old house. When it was first brought to the farm and was still up on blocks, a man who happened to be driving by hollered to my father through his open pickup window, ďBurn it down!Ē Since the house was basically an organized pile of kindling, one match would have been enough to do the job. But instead of burning it down, my father laughed, and in the weeks that followed he planted a bush on each side of the front door and my mother planted some flowers.

One day, a rabid dog wandered into the yard. My father was working in the field, but my grandfather happened to be home, so he came and shot it. Another time, there was an earthquake many miles away on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. My mother hustled my brothers into a doorway and the three of them hung on until the waves subsided. The house didnít fall down. There also used to be a peeping Tom in the area, but he was considered harmless. He looked into the old house only once that my mother knew of. He was there for only half a minute or so, then he moved on. Poor, sad fellow. Imagine what would happen to him now.

On the wall next to my motherís fireplace, there is a framed snapshot of the old house that was taken just after it was delivered to the farm. It provides ample proof that the man who had yelled ďBurn it down!Ē had a valid argument. And yet, after our new house was built, the old house was sold and hauled to yet another site on the north side of town, where over the years it was painted, refurbished, remodeled, and extended, until it was no longer recognizable. As far as I know, itís still there today. Itís a shame the people who live in it canít see our old snapshot. Then again, they might have one of their own. If they do, I hope they are as proud of it as we are of ours.

September 20, 2005







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