If I had to choose one small appliance that has stood out for my entire life, it would have to be the toaster oven. There have been many in my life, and though each has its own legacy, one in particular stands out for me. One year at Christmastime, Dad bought a brand new toaster oven from B.J.’s Wholesale Club. New appliances were not the norm in our house – he usually went for used garage sale fare, so this was a big deal. He lifted it proudly from the box and placed it on the counter.
Immediately, as if the toaster oven had been told about the house in which it would be living, it fell forward off of the counter corner, which was specifically designed to hold a toaster oven. Apparently this particular toaster oven came forward just about a half inch too far and would not sit completely on the counter. Dad’s face fell. He pushed it back so that it was just teetering on the edge of the counter, but as soon as he opened the door, the whole contraption came crashing down again. He proceeded to do this several times before looking up at me.
“I guess it doesn’t fit,” he said.
“Nope, I guess not,” I answered. “Are you going to take it back?”
“Yeah, maybe,” he said. “It was a good deal.”
We suffered through the falling toaster oven for a few months, during which every time you opened the door to remove the toast, the whole oven would come crashing forward and downward off the counter step. It bothered him enough to look for a solution but not enough to bring it back to the store. In a swoop of genius one day, Dad went out to the garage and found a wooden sign that was about ¾ inch thick. He expertly wedged it underneath the front of the toaster oven so that the two front haunches could sit on top of it. It fit perfectly, and as long as you didn’t move the toaster oven too abruptly, it worked just fine. So for the next year, the oversized toaster oven sat on the counter atop a sign that read “WELCOME.” It was as if we were telling any and all visitors, “Welcome to our toaster. Please sit and allow us to fix you a slice.” And after all, who doesn’t love toast?
Anyway, the toaster oven didn’t last. The final nail in the coffin came one day when I arrived home from school to find it sitting on the front lawn, just outside the kitchen door. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a sticky a sticky white substance covering the grill. I treaded lightly into the kitchen to find my father sitting at the head of the table, going through the mail, seeming not at all concerned that there was a small appliance on the lawn.
“What’s with the toaster oven?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, assuming his irritated tone of voice, “one of your kids got melted marshmallows all over it,” he said. “It almost caught on fire, and I had to throw it outside.” He stared at me and waited for me to form a response.
“How could they have gotten that much marshmallow all over it?” I asked. “They only put in like two s’mores at a time.” Oh yeah, side note, even to this day my children regularly make s’mores in the toaster oven.
“I don’t know,” he said. “They must have put it in there and then forgot about it.” It sounded fishy. I walked back outside to investigate. Picking up the now cooled toaster oven, I reached in to touch the white substance, surprised to find that it was not sticky. In fact, it was as hard as…well, plastic. In fact, it was plastic. I walked back inside.
“Dad,” I said, “that is not marshmallow all over the toaster oven,” I said. “It’s plastic.” I showed him a piece that I had peeled off of the grill.
“How did plastic get all over it?” he said. It’s amazing how he thinks I can possibly know such things. I walked to the trash can to throw the piece of evidence away when I saw something that brought full realization. Tucked suspiciously in the trash was a white plastic frozen food container, melted so beyond recognition that one could barely tell where the plastic ended and the mashed potatoes began.
“I think just I figured it out,” I said. “Artie.” Apparently, Artie, a friend of the family who lived with my parents, must have thought that cooking plastic in a toaster oven was the same thing as cooking it in a microwave. When he realized that the plastic had melted all over the oven, he simply took it out and threw it away, probably more upset at his ruined mashed potatoes than he was at the ruined toaster oven. My dad just shook his head and continued with the task of sorting through the mail.
About a week later, I came home to find the welcome sign gone from the counter and a yard sale toaster oven on the perch.
“Got it for five bucks,” Dad said proudly.
The new toaster oven burned everything, but at least it didn’t fall off the counter.