Refrigerator Magnets (on hobbies and memories)


When I was a child, my Nanny and Granddaddy—my mother’s parents—had a few magnets on their refrigerator. You know the type I mean. They are a staple of grandparent chic.

I remember that one of my grandparents’ magnets said something like “Smile. People Will Wonder What You’re Thinking” which is as true today as it was back then. Some had biblical quotes. A few were just magnetized artificial flowers or maybe letters of the alphabet. I’m sure at least one said World’s Greatest Grandma. Others were probably from insurance agencies or gutter cleaning services. The magnets were used to hold up grandchildren’s artwork or grocery lists, clipped newspaper articles, maybe a bill or two that needed to be paid.

In all, it was a rather unfocused and uninspiring collection.

The refrigerator magnet collection in our house is a curated work of art.

Sure . . . I hear what you’re saying. Maybe it does look like the white-trash Louvre to you. It’s a refrigerator covered in magnets, which makes the appliance difficult to clean at times. A couple of times a year (okay, maybe once a year), we pull all of the magnets off so that all of the surfaces may be equally cleaned, and then the chore falls to yours truly to put them back on.

While it is our collection—mine and the lovely Sharon’s—it began in a much smaller way long before we were a couple. As I traveled on business (seldom pleasure in those days), I would pick up a magnet in each location I traveled to. Usually in an airport giftshop. Occasionally at a convenience store or restaurant.

I’ve never been the type to take a lot of photos, especially in the pre iPhone days. Even now, I may take photos, but never print them and seldom look at them. The refrigerator magnets are a placeholder for my memories. With only a couple of exceptions, I can pick any magnet on our fridge and tell you something about when and where it was acquired.

For instance, that giant pink pig there. That one came from a restaurant called The Yankee Smokehouse, somewhere in New Hampshire. I don’t remember what year Sharon and I were there, but I know the weather was nice and everyone in New Hampshire (except for us) was riding motorcycles that day. During that same driving trip, Sharon and I went to every New England state. It was a memorable vacation.

The Five Civilized Tribes Museum magnet, from Muskogee, Oklahoma, is a different kind of memory. It was a gift from a friend, after I told him the story about stopping in Muskogee and being disappointed because I couldn’t find a refrigerator magnet that said Okie from Muskogee (which I still think would look pretty boss on the fridge). My friend’s mother lived near Muskogee, and, while she couldn’t find the Okie magnet either, she sent him this one, which he gave to me. I’ve never been to the museum, but this is a memory of something nice someone once did for me.

Most of the magnets are self-explanatory, of course. NFL Hall of Fame. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Niagara Falls. Et cetera, etc. A few would mean little to anyone other than my wife and me. The I (heart) My Schnauzer may even confuse people since we have two dogs, neither of which are schnauzers. A few, I must reluctantly admit, mean little even to me. When people discover you have a hobby or collection of some sort, they often buy things to add to it. My wife has separately experienced this with flamingos and roosters. We have never been to Disney World, for instance. We don’t really want to go there, either, to be completely honest. But, one of our granddaughters vacationed there, and brought us a magnet for the fridge. That’s still a memory, I suppose, but it’s associated with a loved one, not a place.

The collection isn’t always displayed the way you see it here. Sometimes, I try to place them geographically on the fridge, so that Seattle would be in the upper lefthand corner and Key West in the lower righthand. You get my drift. The Grand Canyon would be on the left side door, just before the crack, because we’ve only been to the western rim.

Over the years, the chunkier or ceramic ones have moved to the sides of the appliance, because they tend to get knocked off and broken on our quarry tile floors when they are displayed on the front. We have several that are missing chunks or are held together with Super Glue. Likewise, many generic magnets—the odd vintage McDonald’s or Coca-Cola, with no real attached memories—end up on the sides.

When not arranged geographically, the collection becomes something else. Maybe just a random arrangement, such as now, or separated by magnet type. Metal with metal, plastic with plastic, and so on. Sometimes the overall effect is thematic. We have an unusual amount of magnets with moose on them, for instance. I might group these together, just for fun. Or put the ones shaped liked the states they’re from together. There are no rules.

We use several of the magnets for the same purposes my own grandparents did, as well. There’s artwork there. There are magnets from businesses and restaurants that deliver. We didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel here.

When people talk about hobbies, I usually say I have none. I guess that’s not strictly true. I have several, as it turns out. This is one.

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