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Flatbush Flashback

The Emotional Resonance of Common Household Objects

 

The Kelvinator in the above photo is identical to the refrigerator we had for the 12 years we lived on East 17th Street. The landlord must have given my parents a slightly used model when they moved in, in 1953, because the refrigerator always looked little dilapidated, with ice building up in the freezer until there was barely enough room for an ice cube tray. Defrosting it was a tri-monthly ordeal. My mother first had to remove everything in the refrigerator, then chip away with an ice pick until there was enough room in the freezer to fit a pot of boiling water, and then another and another, until enormous chunks of ice began crashing to the floor. Then she'd mop the floor since it was already wet. My mother despised that refrigerator and longed for the day she could have a new one, preferably frost free, with a separate freezer compartment.

 

Like the Lewyt vacuum cleaner I wrote about in April, the Kelvinator is one of the numerous household objects I searched for on the Internet to jog my memory as I was writing Bobby in Naziland. It always surprised me how much emotional resonance certain common objects held, and how many memories they evoked, especially if I hadn't seen them in more than a half century, and especially if in the ensuing years they'd taken on the appearance of antiques. Looking at such objects underscored how much time had passed since I'd last seen them for real.

 

Memory itself is one of the subjects I explore in the book, and I noted in a chapter called "Speak, Memory" that if you grew up anytime after the late 1940s, it's possible to piece together the lost world of your childhood from fragments found on the Internet. It's all there: the antique photos of the street where you lived; the videos of the decades-ago-canceled TV shows you watched; the advertisements for the toys you once owned or coveted; the vacuum cleaners your mother used, and the refrigerators she defrosted.

 

After spending several years seeking out and finding such things, it occurred to me that organic memory and digital archives can become so intertwined, sometimes you can't tell where one ends and the other begins, though these days it hardly seems to matter.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

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