A few nights ago I awoke about three-ish and stumbled out to the darkened kitchen. I didn't turn on the lights, hoping my sticky eyelids would close again quickly after I took the pill I was after. But I needn't have worried about seeing . . . the LED lights from all the kitchen appliances lit my path, and kept me from trampling on the cat. Amazed by the amount of glow cast from the tiny lights, I stopped and counted them 3 greens, 3 yellows, 2 reds and the bright blue of the charging station on the counter. Three of the lights were clocks - the radio, the oven and the microwave, and naturally, the times weren't the same.
I hadn't really thought about the fact that so many of our labor-saving devices identify themselves with lights, so much so that my kitchen looked like a mini airport ready for night landings. As I stumbled back to bed I couldn't help but think of how many appliances we have now compared to my childhood kitchen and how sophisticated they are.
Snuggled back under the covers waiting for sleep, I thought about how the appliance scene has progressed in my lifetime. I lay there remembering the terrifying water heater that stood in the corner of that childhood kitchen. I learned to light it with a match sometime around age nine or ten and I was ever-fearful of the match blowing out before it caught the gas flow. When the match did die and I lit another in a complete panic, it was always to the sound of a big boom as it caught . . . similar to the sound of my heart exploding from fear. Comparing that to the swift, clean technology of today's electronic touch pads and I can honestly say I appreciate them. And I know my mother does.
After our early decades of the old wringer washing machine, we both love our washer/dryer combos. I still have vivid memories of all those wringer cycles from the washer into the rinse sink and back through the wringer again, praying that my skinny, little arm wasn't dragged into the moving rollers of the wringer. Those memories included hanging out the clothes on January mornings. The pulley line extended from outside our back hall window to the pear tree in the backyard. The line got heavier and heavier as I pinned on the wet clothes, fingers numbing rapidly, trying not to drop the clothespins to the yard two stories below. Today I think it's extra work when I de-lint the dryer filter.
As a newlywed I received an electric knife that we used at Thanksgiving and Easter but it sat in a bottom drawer otherwise. Then one evening at a friend's dinner party, we met a missionary priest who had spent half his life in the upper reaches of the Amazon jungle. When the host began to carve the roast with his electric knife the priest asked what it was. "It's an electric knife," responded our hostess. This nice cleric, who had lived so primitively, then asked, "Does it come with an electric fork?" It was hard to tell if his comment was merely curious innocence or loaded with sarcasm. He never betrayed his words with his face, but I fell asleep that night thinking about how spoiled we were . . . and how much we took for granted.
I was married five years and in our fourth rental before I had my first dishwasher. I swear it was a 1918 Kitchenaid. It made noises that healthy machinery shouldn't make, but I loved it anyway. Later that same year, as we were expecting our first child, we bought a washer and dryer, and I suddenly felt very domesticated. It was supposed to be for the impending diapers but it sure made a difference on my Mondays.
Despite lots of early household moves with exposure to a large variety of different appliances, the one goodie that I've never taken for granted is the ice maker. I hated those squeaky trays that no one else ever filled and there was never enough ice. To this day I whisper "thank you" when I reach in for a glassful or fill the cooler. It's ridiculous that such a small thing can make a person so happy. It also often reminds me of an elderly lady I met a long time ago.
I was at lunch and we were having this same girlie conversation about favorite appliances and which was the biggest life changer. Women were waxing rhapsodic about their microwaves, their water-in-the-door refrigerators, their instant hot water dispensers. Finally this sweet grandmother piped up and said, "Well. I for one have always appreciated my sink."
Conversation stopped, all of us wondering how something so basic, so plebian, could be her object of desire. Then we listened to her charming stories about life back on the family farm. She told us about lugging water from the well, deliveries from the ice man and boiling clothes in the copper boiler. She was a good conversationalist who made all that back-breaking work sound interesting. I know that I for one went home grateful to have missed farm life in the twenties.
In an era of SUV's, flat screens and iPads most of us accept our largesse as the norm. Whether we can simply write the check, or we have to save for months for the same purchase, the fact is that mostly, we can. Maybe we should take a minute to appreciate our electricity, our furnaces, our toilets, yes, even our indoor sinks.
And I'm going to go fill the ice bucket. With thanks.
Marcy O'Brien lives in Glade Township with Ollie the Wondercat who eats, plays and wanders in the dark - and has never once complained. She can be reached at MOBY.firstname.lastname@example.org.