How many of us feel drawn to look at the front of someone’s fridge—from the moment we’re invited in? In Covid time, most of us aren’t getting invited into anyone’s house or condo anymore. But think back to the last time you felt comfortable enough to wander around a new place, doing the dog equivalent of sniffing someone else’s territory. How often did you end up sneaking a peek at the front of a fridge?

I guess it’s pretty obvious by now that I am one of those front-of-the-fridge snoopers.

I fear this confession may keep me out of wary friends’ houses even after we’re all vaccinated against the fearsome virus.

But stay with me on this. The fronts of fridges are fascinating places. If I were a detective, I could glean a ton of information about someone by looking at what they stick on their refrigerators—items they might have stopped noticing a long time ago, but magnets and photos, recipes and funny comics that’ll feed the hunger of any first-time snooper.

A fridge-front photo: Mom and I touring Ha Long Bay, North Vietnam

Since I can’t invite you over, I’ll let you take a quick, germ-free peek at mine.

The front of my fridge is filled with a range of cheesy photos of our four boys from age four through their twenties—already you are getting the picture of a once-beleaguered mom—along with our adorable pug wearing a cowboy hat, three cute nieces, my hopelessly romantic face after first marrying my husband, and many other things I won’t bore you with.

I also have two fridge magnets. “Never give up” reads one, a total of three times over, care of Winston Churchill. The other says this: “Life begins outside your comfort zone.”

I’ve glanced at these magnets for extra oomph on occasion—when I need someone else’s prescribed wisdom to get through kids’ mental health breakdowns, to recover from being bullied at work, to talk myself into being braver with my writing, to just soldier through a really blah sort of day by reminding myself of all I have. I keep these magnets on there in the hope they inspire our kids someday—the three young men who live at home and sometimes fear stepping into the great unknown, a world that can feel like it’s forsaken them.

Don’t give up, I think. Venture forth, even when your feet and your heart hurt.

Sometimes what’s missing on the front of a fridge offers more of a story than what’s there.

I have cheap, collectible magnets from my two-week trip to Vietnam with my then 80-year-old mother in 2018—a gorgeous, laugh-a-minute memory even more treasured during a time when travel is impossible.

I have a magnet of a painting by famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero from my 2019 trip there with friends, when friends still travelled together. Sigh.

I have a list of emergency numbers for my special needs’ dog, still the easiest creature to live with among our household of six, including me.

I have laminated obituaries, one from my dear friend Leslie who died a year ago—a woman who was like a second mom to me. I never need to consult the fridge to remember her face. She’s with me always.

I have obituaries for two fathers. Both doctors. One is my husband’s father, one of the kindest, clearest-headed men I have ever known. The other one is of my father. I’ve written more than 70,000 words about my dad so far. The picture on his obituary is a study in deep sadness, the face of an utterly lost soul. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read my memoir, tentatively titled, Lessons in Reverse. I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Sometimes what’s missing on the front of a fridge offers more of a story than what’s there.

In the months before my father spent his last days in hospital, more than ten years ago, he walked into our kitchen and stared at the fridge. Then he got quiet. “How come you don’t have any photos of me up there?” he said. His mouth folded into a pout.

I looked, and realized my dad was right. Nothing. Nada. I hadn’t noticed.

“Sorry, Dad,” I said, then pulled him over to a corner with a few framed photos of my dad and his second wife sitting on a shelf. I’d tucked them aside—they weren’t my favourite bunch of photos. But they were something. “Here they are,” I told him. “I’ve got at least three over here.”

My dad squinted. Still said nothing. I could tell he wasn’t convinced.

Dad realized the thing about fridges we all know: the front of the fridge is where you put the important stuff, including the people you love, so they’re never far from your mind, so you see them every day, so you never forget them no matter what.

I remember my dad. But the obituary is on the side, which means he still hasn’t landed on the front of my fridge.

His absence from this central part of my house speaks volumes. It’s a measure of the degree to which I keep his memory at bay. My dad broke my heart. But he was also one damn good detective. The best fridge snoop yet.

When was the last time you really looked at the front of your fridge?

Remember—you might just want to snoop-proof it. One of these days, we’ll be inviting people back into our comfort zones again. I say that, because I never give up.

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