Wed 4 May 2011
I remember 1968 as a pretty good year. I went to Hawaii that summer and stayed with my grandmother. Just before I left, I had fallen in love with a guy named Steve, and he wrote me letters while I was there and signed them, “Love, Steve.” Not even “love ya,” (or worse, “luff ya,” both of which mean something else altogether.)
It was a good year. But for some reason, it was also the year that the appliance industry went completely insane and decided that what the world needed were stoves and refrigerators and dishwashers in HIDEOUS colors. Why settle for a white stove when you could have one that was Harvest Gold or Avocado Green instead? And why have stoves that simply sat on the ground like other appliances? No, let’s DROP THEM IN TO THE COUNTERTOPS! Yes. Make them a hideous shade of green and wedge them into the kitchen counters so they can never come out again. THAT is what the American household has been craving.
And oh yes–make them indestructible.
When we moved into our 1968-built house in 1993, there were many things to love: the screened-in porches, the acre of land with rose bushes and a flagstone patio–but I eyed the appliances with quiet horror: the avocado green dishwasher, refrigerator and stove.
Still. Realistically, how much longer could they last? They were already 25 years old.
“It’s okay if you break down soon,” I whispered to them on a daily basis. “You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.” (In our family, we don’t seem to be capable of parting with anything until it breaks down. It’s a pathological condition.)
The dishwasher was the first to obey. It broke down six months later, and we replaced it with a nice white, whisper-quiet model.
Next, a year or two later, the refrigerator obliged me. I thanked it for its service as it rode out of the house on the Maytag man’s dolly, while a gleaming, new, modern, ice-making model took its place.
But the stove. It would not die. Oh sure, the heating element of the oven went out once, and we started pricing stoves and realized quickly that because our stove was the now-infamous type known as a DROP-IN, (meaning that it is smaller than the average stove and doesn’t have any feet to it) we would either have to pay Big Bucks to replace it with another drop-in, OR we would have to dismantle all the kitchen counters to make room for a normal-sized modern stove.
My husband replaced the heating element for $30, and we sent the children to college with the money we saved.
The stove made up its mind that it would not die. It just sat there day after day, an ugly avocado green thing–like an angry frog–perched in the kitchen, heroically roasting vegetables, baking birthday cakes, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, boiling water for the tea day by day, expecting gratitude for its undying service, no doubt. In an age when nearly everything can be counted on to break within the first five years, this stove celebrated its 40th birthday with no fanfare. Then the 41st, 42nd and 43rd came and went. I could feel it quivering with its plan for immortality.
We kept pricing drop-in stoves that were a more reasonable color. Surely they would grow cheaper, wouldn’t they? But no. They were probably having to be custom-made somewhere, since no one was buying them except refugees from 1968 like ourselves. They climbed upwards of a thousand dollars. Who would put that kind of money into a too-tiny stove just so you could have one that was another color?
“Paint it,” people said.
“Don’t paint it,” said the guy at the paint store. “You have no idea the trouble you’re in for.”
I am often willing to be warned away from trouble that involves a paintbrush and some burner elements, believe me.
And then on this past Saturday, a friend called and said that he had a present for us. He had just that moment been riding down the street and had seen a person hauling a white, drop in, General Electric stove out to the curb. Throwing it away! WHAT WERE THE CHANCES? My friend practically flipped his truck he pulled over so fast. “Are you throwing that out?” he asked breathlessly, and seconds later, he and the guy were loading it up into the truck–and it was on its way to its new home. Our home.
“Oh, by the way, it does work, doesn’t it?” he asked before he pulled away, and the man said, “Sure! Works great.”
We were elated but…well, cautious. We put it in our garage and cleaned it up some, although it didn’t need much. Truthfully, our green one looked much worse for wear. This stove was clearly a youngster of only 35 or 36.
Today an electrician came over and helped us lug out the old green one and hard-wire the new one into place. (Because in 1968, you didn’t just plug in your avocado green stove–oh no, you had to have it HARD-WIRED right into the heart of your house.)
I held my breath as we tested it. Everything worked!
We moved the avocado green one out onto the porch until we think of what to do with it. I put on some Beatles and Little Rascals music to salute it as it left its post. I said I was sorry for the unkind things I’d said about it all these years. It really was a very good drop-in stove, come to think of it. I’m sure it would have made it to 143 if only given the chance.
But I’m glad to say goodbye to the last vestige of 1968.