I didn’t give much thought to the decorative correctness (grin) of refrigerator magnets until one day when a friend was visiting. As she stood eyeing my varied collection, she said, “Bob won’t let me put magnets on our refrigerator.” And seeing her bemused expression, I got the feeling that now she understood exactly why. Tacky, tacky, tacky — or did I just imagine that thought bubble? No matter, I kept right on buying magnets and sticking them on the fridge doors. I’d never counted my collection, though I would have guessed it numbers about 25. Turns out it’s closer to 35ish, but in fairness that’s counting the practical ones, like the cheat magnet that tells me eight tablespoons equal a half a cup or the little magnetized booklet on first aid for pets.
Practicality aside, my magnets are colorful; they have histories, stories, memories. They come from friends as gifts and from far-away places as souvenirs. I don’t so much use them to hold things, though I do some of that, but mostly I just like moving them around in new patterns. Belize with Amsterdam. Alaska with Denver. Taos with New York City.
But now I fear they’ll have to go.
We have finally committed to the long overdue kitchen remodel and I suspect the sleek new finish on my new appliances will probably not hold up well under the clicks and clacks of magnets.
I don’t know exactly how my fondness for the magnets started, but I’d guess it was probably the one memento I could afford in our early travels.
The oldest is from Pike Place Market, which means it probably came in 1991-92, when I lived north of Seattle. It’s round and faded to just a hint of the original color, but that’s OK, I know what it is. There’s a square magnet from Denver’s Larimer Square, which I took home as a party gift in 2000 when the neighborhood hosted an open house of sorts. What I remember about that evening is that it had just been announced that the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post were forming a joint operating agreement. Under such bygone agreements, both papers published five days a week with one publishing on Saturday and the other on Sunday. We got the Saturday paper, which meant we were the losers. That evening when a friend asked me about the agreement, I responded with the appropriate outburst of tears.
I have red wooden clog magnet from Amsterdam, a pueblo from Taos, and a salmon painted in the Pacific Northwest tradition from Juneau. There’s one of a group standing beneath umbrellas in the rain with the wording “Smile at the rain.” I look at that one and I am back walking laps around the SeaTac concourse whiling away the time until I could board the plane for a foreign travel assignment I really didn’t want to take.
One of my favorites is a hand-painted Caribbean scene. I noticed it on the fridge in our rental in San Pedro, Belize. “Wow,” I said to the hubs. “Look at that cool magnet. Has that always been there?” He laughed. He had just bought it that day at the local art gift store and stuck it there to surprise me. I have the magnet I bought at the Sylvia Beach Hotel gift shop in 2000 when we flew here to interview for Chan’s job. It too is faded, but I can still read the words printed above the flower, “It is OK to wake up laughing.” I bought one to give to my editor when I announced I was leaving. Except I wasn’t laughing then. There’s a boomerang from Australia; a photo magnet from the 9/11 Memorial in NYC and ruby red slippers from you-know-where.
At least three are from my childhood friend, Tamah, another from my old Denver editor, one from a niece and another from a friend reminding me to “Take time to smell the flowers.”
As I look to this new kitchen, I think about my visiting friend’s unspoken assessment of my collection, and wonder what she would say about me junking up a brand new shiny fridge.
Sometimes, I think maybe it’s time to put them away. But then I think maybe I’ll just change my plans and buy good old-fashioned non-scratch appliances. After all, who needs sleek and sophisticated when you have three dozen magnets from around the world just waiting to add a bit of tacky color.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.