Monday, May 23, 2005

The mixer

This past weekend, my hand mixer quit on me. I was going to mix up some muffin batter, and I inserted the beaters, the machine groaned and the beaters quit. I tried different speeds and got a slightly louder groan for a few seconds at higher speeds, but then nothing. My mixer was toast.

This little hand mixer, a GE coral and white model was a birthday present to me from my parents in 1980. I was living in Chicago in a one-bedroom apartment, living by myself for the first time in my life, working at a hospital, my first job after getting my MBA from the University of Chicago in March of that year. I remember thinking it was an odd gift, but since I didn’t have a mixer, I kept it all through the years. Throughout the 80’s, I didn’t cook that much, and I didn’t use the mixer much, but it moved with me from Chicago, back to my parents’ home in 1982, to the small town on the edge of the Adirondacks where I worked in 1983, to Trumansburg New York in 1985, where it moved with me to every house I inhabited in the years following. Last year, I began to rent out my spare bedroom to students of a local massage school for six-month periods. My first tenant made up a lot of cream pies with Oreo Cookie pudding mixes and Cool Whip, and she used the mixer a lot. I thought at first I could blame her for the failure of my mixer, but more likely it was due to the use it saw after I had my children, a result of the pancakes I often made, the banana bread and bran muffins, or the chocolate chip cookies, thick batters that tried and wore the motor down.

It was sad to hold this mixer in my hand, a slight burnt smell in the air. I thought of the gift 25 years ago, and I thought of my parents: my father, felled by a series of strokes, lying small and weak in his bed, only the slightest sign of recognition in his eyes when I saw him last. My mother asking me if I won the race when I called her a few weeks ago and interrupted her viewing the Kentucky Derby on television. I didn’t know what to say, if I should point out I hadn’t been in any race, or to carry on the illusion and go along with her. The path of least resistance led me to answer, “yes, Mom, I won the race.” Later in the conversation when talking about her 96 year old sister, whose funeral we recently had attended, she asked again, “well, did Aunt Kay win the race?” I decided that, yes, in some sense she had won the race, too. She beat out my mother, anyway.

What to do with the sad little mixer at the end of its useful life? My 14 year-old son loves to take things apart and see how they work, so I gave him the appliance and asked him if he could figure out a way to fix it. I’d already ordered a new KitchenAid mixer from Amazon, and I’m not sure what I was thinking when I gave it to him to fix, but he was happy to unscrew the parts and spend a couple of hours tinkering with it. He eventually gave it back to me, telling me the motor was burned out and I should throw it away. I looked at this partially disassembled lump of copper, steel and plastic, and told him we could recycle the copper wire – that it might even be worth some money, and he said, “Mom, throw it out”.

It was a hard thing to do, getting rid of that mixer. I’m not sure why, although it has something to do with the fact that this mixer was a gift from elderly, failing parents who now require 24 hour care, and who are regularly visited by hospice workers. I figure I’ll throw it out, eventually, but it may be one of those things I hang on to until I move to my next house.


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