Refrigerators look harmless, innocent, ordinary. But they have a dark side.

They often harbor questionable condiments, suspicious fruit and potentially dangerous leftovers.

When you think about it, it’s amazing that many of us are still alive.

’50s moms reached into the Philco to fetch the Oleo dish. It sat out on the table until after dinner. Nobody pondered the age of the Miracle Whip. Some folks refrigerated ketchup. Some didn’t.

My Aunt Ethel grew up during the Depression. She rarely discarded anything. When she moved here from Philadelphia in ’79, she brought 14 cartons of canned goods – some probably purchased during the Eisenhower administration.

Expiration dates, invented in the mid-’80s, alert us to imminent spoilage. Before that, we just smelled stuff.

I’m convinced that fridges, in cahoots with grocery chains, allow “Label Gremlins” to sneak in at night and mess with dates. Targeting salad dressings, mayonnaise, butter and other perishables, they guilt us into higher food bills as we replace “out-dates.”

Mom and I called Ethel’s refrigerator “Jaws.” When she traveled, we’d pounce on “Jaws,” removing anything iffy or festering.

Once, we held a “Name The Mystery Meat” contest. Friends and neighbors dropped quarters in a jar for a chance to identify 4 slices of decomposed lunchmeat sealed in a Ziploc bag. Our friend Donna won the $2.75 pot by correctly guessing “Lebanon bologna.”

The “Ethel Experience” taught me to be cautious around refrigerators.

In the mid-’70s, I owned a little house. I rented the spare bedroom to Jenny, a 26-year-old UPJ student who felt “too old” for dorm life. Part of our rental agreement included fridge space.

Unlike me, Jenny could cook. She also liked “natural” beauty products and whipped up wrinkle treatments, exfoliants and facial masks out of ingredients like yogurt, oregano, avocados, basil, mangos and persimmon. She always offered to share, but eating spicy dishes and smearing pulverized kiwis on my cheeks didn’t work for me.

I possess no culinary talent. I had even LESS back then. Spaghetti and jar sauce, endless varieties of Tyson frozen bagged chicken, canned veggies, salads and Jello kept me alive.

That summer, I dated Bud, who enthusiastically accepted my dinner invitations and enjoyed each meal as if it had been prepared for him by Julia Child.

One evening, Bud arrived early for our movie date. Jenny’d gone home to Altoona for the weekend.

“Can I raid your fridge?” he yelled up the steps.

“Make yourself at home!” I laughed.

Five minutes later, I entered the kitchen. Bud, seated at the table, had a beer and the Tupperware container filled with Jenny’s latest organic facial mask. He was spreading the mixture on Ritz crackers. 

“Thish dip’s great,” he gulped through a mouthful. “You gotta show me how to make it!”

I never told him – but, of course, I had to tell Jenny. She moved out shortly after. I’d “compromised her private space.”

Boo-hoo! I think she just ran out of thyme.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at

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