One Thousand and One Uses: Your Freezer

Commentator Bill Harley describes the various uses of freezers, from collecting Barbie Dolls to saving dead hamsters.


Commentator Bill Harley had a few little discussions that got him thinking about a particular household appliance.


This past winter in a third-grade classroom I got into a discussion about Barbie dolls. One girl raised her hand and said, `I have three Barbies.' `That's nice,' I said. `In the freezer,' she said. `Why did you put them there?' I asked. `To keep them fresh,' she answered. `Oh,' I said, which is really all you can say to that kind of information. I suspect that Barbie is in the freezer because there is too much freezer space in America.

Only a week later in another classroom, after a discussion about pets, a boy came up to me and said, `We have hamsters in our freezer.' `Hamsters?' I said. Again, what else could I say? Maybe it was a cultural difference in diet. `A couple,' he said, `and I think there's a rabbit there, too. My dad put them there. He's waiting for spring.' After a few more questions, it became apparent that the boy's family had suffered a spate of pet, rodent mortality. Now they were waiting for the ground to thaw so the beloved pets could be interred in the family pet cemetery.

Still, I began to think that there was something going on in the freezers of America and that they are being used for things that a man at Kelvinator and GE did not intend. I began to suspect that this was a kind of supply-side economics in subzero terms, a field of dreams of the polar variety. Are we filling freezer space just because we have it? When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, a science teacher, she readily confessed that there were all sorts of animals in her freezer she was never planning on eating, no dolls, but really a muskrat next to the vanilla ice cream is kind of disconcerting. Everybody seems to have something in their freezer.

And then last week it happened to me. I was outside on our deck with friends when a small bird flew into one of our windows. My friend picked it up. Its neck was broken. There was nothing to be done. It was a warbler, but who knew what kind? There are a million species of warblers. We got out the bird book and, holding the bird in our hands, actually had time to identify it, a thing I could never do as it flew from branch to branch. It was a Northern Parula. It was beautiful: patches of green across its shoulders, bands of yellow on its wings, a speckled throat. It had to be rare.

But what did I do with it now? Someone must want it? Maybe the local Audubon Society or my friend, the biology teacher. It was too beautiful to let go of. There was nothing else to do but to put it in a baggy and put it in the freezer, where my wife found it the next day. `What is this doing here?' she asked. `I don't know,' I said. `I'm keeping it.' `Why?'

And then I understood what people do with freezers, why Barbies and hamsters and muskrats and Canada geese and even deceased baseball players are resting in the freezer next to tomorrow's lamb chops. We use freezers to keep things because we can't let go. Life slips through our fingers, and we know we can't hold it, but we can't admit it, so we put it in the freezer. It's a national epidemic or maybe just the human condition. `I'm keeping it,' I said, `just a little longer,' like Barbie, like the hamster, like everything.

BLOCK: Bill Harley is a singer and storyteller from Seekonk, Massachusetts. His newest recording for families is called "The Town Around the Bend: Bedtime Stories and Songs."

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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