Saturday, January 12, 2013

Abby Returns To College ... so I Am Throwing Myself A Shower

This weekend my daughter returned to college with all sorts of high-tech Christmas gadgets for her dorm.  Like microwave cocoa.  Each single-serving recyclable pouch contains microwave-safe marshmallows, engineered by science to NOT inflate like an airbag. 

Plus, we got her that organic green cookware from the Infomercial where the smiling actress blows an omelet – poof! – and without aid of pretreatment with W-D 40, it takes flight like a sheet of yellow’d Charmin. . . or Aladdin’s Flying Crepe.

Meanwhile, I am sitting here sipping non-microwave tea from water boiled by a cast iron “humidifier” my mother bought us in 1991, to adorn our wood burning stove.  Much like a sperm whale, it releases steam from its topside blowhole to stop our nasal passages from snapping in two from the molten-hot desiccated air.

Its lid is permanently fused to the base by either minerals or rust.  So I use a ladle to slurp hot water into my mug.

Last summer I was enjoying my own personal heat waves, courtesy of menopause, so it was counter-intuitive to fire up the wood-burning stove to heat tea water.  If I felt the need for something steamy and herbal in a mug, I either got out a bong or boiled water on the stovetop in one of my remaining Farberware pots.  

The one I used for tea water was the original set’s stockpot, designed to heat gallons of soup for the throngs we no longer entertain.

Over the years I’ve apparently given away several teakettles, cookware and small appliances to my offspring, all flying the coop at one point or another to college or metropolitan apartments. 

By Halloween, I finally recognized I’d been ‘temporarily’ heating tea-water like this for four changes-of-season, ever since our microwave died last year and I got too busy with unemployment to replace it.  It had sputtered on along, wheezing in sync with our decaying washer and dryer.

 Everything rots here in threes.

The washer and dryer were far more of an inconvenience than a broken microwave.  For seven months that washer could only accommodate one pair of jeans and a sports bra, on ‘mini’ where it pre-agitated for one whole day. 

The dryer, on the other hand, took a full week to dry less than half of the dampness. We lived with fungal-rash that summer, but at least I was cooler.

Finally, during a tax-free weekend we replaced the washer and dryer.  (The new ones come with digital keypads that play music to us, like ring-tones!)

But we never replaced that microwave mostly because we thought we had several more just like it, in the basement – the ones we ‘inherited’ from adult children during moves from one apartment, one state, one country, to another. 

For years we’d acquired many treasures this way.  Our basement was an archeological wonderland, harboring dented furniture, heinous artwork, near-working appliances, each of which historically marked sixteen adult-child moves our kids embarked on.

Eventually, we’d haul it all back upstairs to disinfect, repair and shine like new for younger offspring in need. 

Realizing we were now the ones in need, my husband and I tarried to our basement appliance-museum to discover …  not a single discarded microwave.  Not even a propane grill.

Had we really gone through ALL the functional stuff? 

That is how we determined to return to our roots.  Like our pioneer ancestors, we boiled tea water last summer on our old-fangled brushed-stainless convection infra-red hybrid range with scratch-resistant tempered glass-top. 

In a 30-gallon stockpot. 

When the weather got chilly by Thanksgiving, we used the black, rusted cast iron steam vessel fueled by our woodburning stove (both are full of the iron women need).

Luckily, as Abby rooted through our garage yesterday helping me unload wheelbarrow wood to let it dry next to our wood-stove with its cast iron steamer, she spied an old blue baked-ceramic finish teakettle.  

It was like we’d won the lottery.

“Mom!” smiled Abby, “my flat-mates are gonna LOVE this!”

“Wait.  You guys don’t have a teakettle? But, don’t you have a built-in microwave?

“Well yeah, but tea water doesn’t boil right in a microwave. Everyone knows that.  Plus my flat-mates get such a kick out of retro-appliances!”

I started scanning the garage to see if there were other teakettles or appliances I’d missed, which is how I found the toaster we’d received as a wedding gift in 1978.  That’s how far back it went:  you could get away with giving a bride and groom an eighteen dollar appliance instead of a dining room set or plane fare to Cancun.

Anyway, I asked Abby if they needed a toaster.  She was incredulous.  “Mom.  Fire laws?  We aren’t allowed anything that requires extension cords or electricity.”

“But you all have hair dryers and flat irons.”

“HeeYAH…  they come with built-in circuit breakers cuz they’re used in bathrooms.”

“—. . . And?”

“And most bathrooms have water-sources, Mom.  This was ALL in the dorm-contract you signed.”

“So if you don’t have a toaster, how do you make bagels? And DON’T tell me you use flat-irons.”

“Silly Mom,” Abby giggled.  “We broil bread over the oven rungs.”

And with this impeccable logic, I awarded her the pretty-on the-outside teakettle and Abby danced with joy.

For us, I resurrected a copper teakettle jammed underneath my oil tank catching drips.  It was living in a crushed slide-projector box, like the homeless.  One of my bridesmaids had given it to me as a shower gift.  We’d used it on the wood stove to humidify the air before my Mom replaced it with the more elegant cast iron technology.

It had survived many life events. 

The first time we got rid of it, it adorned our first son’s college kitchenette. But when his roommate bought a microwave, we got it back.

It’s since made the rounds to apartments and dormitories around the world.  As each child upgraded his or her kitchenette, or the slave-quarters for a mansion they’d purchased, that copper kettle kept turning back up in my kitchen like a bad penny – only less shiny and valuable.

No longer copper-colored – and now filled with oil scale and tar – I scoured and shined the insides like new, for us.  I’d never done this before.  Then, as I examined its now flat-black outer finish, I used my memory to dredge up Remedies to Restore Discolored Copper.

And it came to me – straight from a long-ignored synapse that keeps all my home remedies safe (oh, my favorite: invert an orange peel and roll it like a joint then shove it up your nose when you have a cold:  something in the pulp works better than Sudafed) and, ta-dah!  I recalled that the best copper cleaner is KETCHUP.  The tomato acid eats the oxidation.  If you’re out of ketchup like I was, vodka pasta sauce -- or just vodka -- works great.  (If you drink enough, you don’t really notice the oxidation.)

After my kettle soaked in Paul Newman’s Organic Gourmet Vodka-Basil Ragout for several hours, I rinsed it clean, only to discover a be-speckled mottling petard, common in parasitic skin lesions and Shakespearean diction. (‘Forsooth, a pox upon yon leprosy breaks. It is SCAY-beeze – shaped like the moon -- or arse-shapen scab from the sun.’)

I spun it ‘round in the afternoon light and realized it was decidedly rustic; if only my basement could produce a driftwood kitchen table – distressed by hatchets and spilt Merlot – I could pour hot water from it, into a cracked wooden vessel from the days of Christ, then star in religious infomercials.

The kettle was also German Expressionistic / Steam Punk, so I am endeavoring to purchase a copper-corset, sling a coal-fueled guitar over my back and serve tea to myself on late afternoons, then star in music videos.

After artfully distressing our subterranean homeless kettle, I felt inspired to similarly equip Abby’s dorm-suite.

I found an old canister and filled it with duplicates of wooden spoons and spatulas, pinking shears, a chip clip, extra teaspoons (useful, now), a butter knife, sandwich spreader, stabbing-fork, steak knife, and church key.

Abby had no idea what possible use a church key could have and tossed it back in my junk drawer, then she noted most of the other items were contraband due to their ‘sharp edges.’

“Bonus! Take em.  Just stash em in your purse.”

 I got the church key back out and explained to her that it is used to lift old-fashioned bottle-tops off Pepsi or Heineken beer. She cradled it with nostalgia, like a time traveler, and hugged me, then tossed it back in the drawer because “both beer and glass bottles are banned.”

She’s such a storyteller.

I dropped twenty tea bags into a dented tin canister, still adorned with holly-berry label, “Merry Christmas, ZACH, from Crunchy-Clause” (it housed biscotti in ‘04). Then we went to Target for ‘a few replacement staples.’ 

We returned with two rolls of toilet paper, black glitter nail polish with matching lip-gloss, a kitchen sponge, and nine bags of Frosted Oreos.  “Mama, these high-tech bags are RE-SEALABLE so they’ll never get stale.”

Finally, I festooned a mouldering corrugated box (it recently harbored dead Christmas lights) with festive paper napkins from someone’s graduation, filled it with a cereal bowl, sandwich and dinner plate, glow-in-the-dark Lord of the Rings glass, and a coffee mug pilfered by an ex-charter school comrade from her dentist’s office in 2003.

She was thrilled!  And off she went, back to Salem.

When we returned to my house I realized my kitchen looks like our three sons’ first apartments, only more barren. I had not realized that, after parenting four adult kids, I had given away much of our used, excess stuff. 

What I’d just given to Abby was, apparently, not “excess.”

It’s this kind of parenting that put the ‘empty’ in ‘empty nest.’

So – to upgrade our homey void, I am throwing my husband and me a Replenishment Shower by purchasing modern wares I am sure neither of us is remotely ‘a-ware’ exist!

We shall heat leftovers in a brushed-stainless microwave that can nestle next to a Vita–Mixer.  And we’ll purchase razor sharp steak knives and at least six matching mugs.

I know there’s a ton of my mother’s matching Royal Blue dinnerware downstairs in a box.

I am leaving it there.  At some point, an offspring can take it. Or I’ll swing it by the dump.  I have determined I do not want those dishes.  I hate blue.

I am purchasing for us many new sets of matching plates and bowls, with coordinating platters and soup tureen – like back in the day when we got engaged, only much, much better.  There was no such thing as ‘registering’ back then, so people bought whatever random thing they thought the bride and groom might like. (Indeed, in those dark times, young ladies kept ‘hope chests’ – hoping to get matching stuff they liked.)

I am not ready to register myself anywhere. I am 54 and have decided to let contemporary commercial advertising dictate to me what I like for 2013. I am sure it is colorful and expensive.

I will keep you posted.

And if you need potholders and dishtowels, just know that I do, too.  In fact, I could not bring myself to give Abby one of my two working potholders, so I gave her my least absorbent Halloween dishrag.  Always a relevant theme at Salem State.

Potholders, dishtowels and luxury bath-sheets are on our Shower List and we shall select coordinating colors and fabrics advised by the Home-Fashion Underworld.

We won’t be fully-fashionable by Easter, so we’re flying to my friend Jessie McGuire’s house in South Carolina for that holiday. 

But by Independence Day (the one in the United States) we’ll be ready for high home fashion.  I for one cannot wait! 

And if you need a new church key, let us know.   Those we still have multiples of.