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The Appliance Collectors

It’s a family thing

By Anna Mitchael


My father collects appliances. This isn’t a hobby he brags about, and it is one that I suspect he’s not even consciously aware of. But for as long as I can remember, at least one or two cabinets in my parents’ home have been dedicated to his love of appliances — juicers, blenders, vegetable choppers, panini presses. If it’s silver and shiny and promises to revolutionize the cooking experience in any way, shape or form, he’s game to give it a try. And by ‘give it a try,’ I mean ‘imagine the multitude of ways in which it could work,’ because while I can remember all these appliances taking up cabinet space, I have very few memories of any appliance actually making its way onto the countertop and being used in the preparation of food. Yet even in the face of such neglect, no appliance ever got thrown out.

Each time we moved to a new city when I was growing up (which we did every few years with my father’s company), even though every drawer and closet would get cleaned out before we started packing boxes, somehow his appliances never got the proverbial ax. He was always just about to try out the juicer (after all, it’s almost grapefruit season). And one never can know when the craving for a panini might strike. The only responsible way to live was to be prepared, appliance at the ready.

When I became old enough to command the contents of my own cabinets, I vowed not to fill them with items that would go unused. As a single woman living alone, I was able to make it with only a few pans and casserole dishes. Though, truth be told, the drawer that got used the most in my kitchen was the one where the restaurant delivery menus were stored.

Fast forward to today, when I live so far out in the country that the only delivery we get is when someone happens to be coming for a visit, and we ask them to pick up BBQ on the way. Yet even I have come to be tempted by the great promise of the appliance.

A few months ago, I took the baby to visit my best friend in North Carolina. After eating two delicious meals that she prepared in a slow cooker, I finally broke down and started asking her for details. Which brand had she chosen? Did it really simplify her life around the dinnertime hour? In her estimation, would it be an appliance I would actually use? She answered my questions dutifully, and being the good friend that she is, guessed at my apprehension and offered a bit of hand-holding in the process.

“I could send you the Amazon.com link,” she said.

But I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger. I had a feeling that one slow cooker could be the tip of my own personal appliance iceberg, so I asked her to keep that internet link of temptation out of my inbox.

Then the baby got to the age when it was time for him to start eating solids. Lots of my friends had been making their own baby food, and I figured I would give it a shot. Since my son would eventually grow up and discover I am a far cry from Betty Crocker, the stage when he eats pureed carrots and apples seemed to be my one small window to wow him with my culinary prowess. The friend who was giving me advice on the subject explained how I could chop, steam and cook most baby foods using various pots and pans. Or I could simply buy a baby food-maker appliance that does it all.

“And,” she added, “it’s pretty small, so it doesn’t take up much space on the countertop.”

“Of course it won’t take up much space on the countertop,” I thought to myself, “most likely because I’ll never get around to pulling it out of the cabinet.”

But I was starting to feel the pull of the appliance. It all seemed so easy and, heck, almost fun. A slow cooker for homemade soups? A baby food-maker to streamline the pureeing of various fruits and vegetables for my child’s nutrition? Pop the champagne, it’s practically a party. Or as close to a party as we get these days.

And on the list of the eight million ways that having a child changes how you think about the world, seeing all the ways you resemble your own parents has been at the top of my list. I hear my mother’s voice in my own when I worry (semi) needlessly about (fairly) unimportant things. I see the ways my parents lived their lives and prioritized their values coming through in the decisions I make, both big and small.

Instead of fighting it, I decided to celebrate the inevitability of the way the world works, and I bought the appliances. I wanted to see if they really did revolutionize my kitchen life. I expect that on some days they will, but that there will be other days when I will still have friends pick up BBQ instead of using the slow cooker, and that the ease of the prepared baby food aisle will occasionally win.

Then, in a couple of decades, when my son finds himself shopping on an average Saturday with above-average interest in the newest, finest juicer money can buy — which he may or may not ever actually use — he won’t have to blame his love of the appliance on persuasive advertising or consumerism. The cause of his purchase will be purely genetic, and he will 100 percent, absolutely, without a doubt, know who to blame — his grandfather.


This column appeared in the February 2011 issue of the Wacoan.

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