November 22, 2012
A whole lot of years ago we dropped by my uncle Rod’s house and found him sitting at the kitchen table, staring at his toaster, a shiny chrome model we kids loved because it was totally automatic. You put your piece of bread in and the toaster took it from there, lowering the bread smoothly into the slot, toasting it to perfection, then raising it smoothly back up for your dining pleasure.
“It stopped working,” Rod said sadly. “We’ve had this toaster for forty years. Every morning I put my bread in there, it goes down, it toasts, and it comes back up exactly how I like it. Today–nothing. It just sits there. And I can’t buy a new one. They don’t make them anymore. My toast will never be the same.”
That might sound extreme, but I know exactly what he means. There are certain, simple tools that are so perfectly designed, so beautifully functional that they became irreplaceable. My mother has an orange plastic tub in her cupboard. The kind that came filled with something or other, but no one remembers what. It’s about six inches square and eight inches tall and it’s had a two inch crack in the white plastic lid for as long as I can remember. It is exactly the right size to hold one bag of powdered sugar for easy scooping, which is done with an olive green plastic scoop that’s been in there forever. It is also the ideal size and shape for her corner cupboard. Not pretty, not stylish, and every person in our family would be annoyed if she replaced it with something more fashionable.
There’s a serving spoon in her drawer that’s just as essential to every day life. Again, nothing fancy. We think it was a Christmas gift from their insurance agency but the engraving has long since worn away. It’s got a square, shallow bowl and just below the riveted wood handle there’s a kink where the metal bent while scooping hard ice cream. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but it feels right in your hand, is just the right size and shape for dishing up chili or a casserole or apple pie. In a pinch, it has even doubled as a garden spade. I would be willing to bet that spoon has been used to either prepare or serve ninety percent of the meals I’ve eaten at my mother’s table.
At my house, it’s a turquoise blue comb. One of those hefty plastic ones with the big teeth and a handle designed to stick out of the back pocket of your jeans, the essence of cool in the days of feathered hair. My husband had it when we got married and we don’t leave home without it. Camping, rodeoing, weekend at the lake–where my husband goes, so goes the Comb. I, on the other hand, am not allowed sole custody of the Comb. I must drag some other, lesser comb through my wet hair if I travel without him. That’s okay with me. I have a tendency to forget things in hotel rooms and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed in my own house without it.
My uncle Rod would understand completely. All these years later, he’s still trying to make a perfect piece of toast. So on this day when we pause to appreciate all that is good in our lives, I’d like to give thanks for the simple things.
Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real