Faith Gong: Appliance angst

Our first clue that the appliances were turning against us was when the oven refused to heat up. It happened at the worst possible moment, of course: A night when I was supposed to be going out for a belated birthday dessert with friends, and my husband would be getting home late after picking up our eldest daughter from a class and our youngest from a playdate. Feeling like I had it all together, I’d tossed some food into the oven to cook while I walked the dog and did the poultry chores. Twenty minutes later – just minutes before the other hungry half of our family would arrive expecting dinner – I checked the oven to find it still stone cold.

My husband saved the day, as usual, by cooking our dinner on the stovetop. In the process, he discovered that our microwave seemed to be acting up: It made a sound like a car revving up, indicating that it was working only intermittently.

It was dark by the time our dinner was ready, so we turned on the lights.

“Wait, are the lights flickering?” one of our daughters observed after a couple of minutes.

They were, but we didn’t think much of it at first. We have one kitchen light that tends to be a little tentative, plus it was a windy night. But when the lights –ALL the lights throughout our house, not just the kitchen lights – continued to dim at regular ten-second intervals, we started to take notice.

Our first step was to contact our nearest neighbors to confirm whether they were having similar issues: Nope.

It was a Friday evening, so calling an electrician or the power company wasn’t an option. We paused to consider what might be going on.

The flickering lights explained the microwave, but not the oven, which is gas powered. Our daughters arrived at the obvious conclusion: Our appliances were possessed. “Can we sleep in your room tonight?” they asked.

The next morning, the lights were still flickering, and we still hadn’t solved the mystery. I put loads of laundry into the washer and dryer, which seemed to work fine. But when I attempted to start the coffee maker, it switched off immediately. I turned it on again; it shut off. With rising panic, I attempted to make the coffee several more times. Nothing.

I reported the crisis to my husband, who’d just finished walking the dog. “This is unacceptable,” were my exact words, I believe.

My husband grasped the urgency of the situation. He went straight to the kitchen and switched on the coffee maker – which started without issue and brewed a full pot of coffee.

At that point, everything seemed to resolve. We had no further issues with either stove or electrical appliances.

Until two days later, that is, when my daughter was getting herself an afternoon ice cream snack and called out, “Mommy, the ice cream is all liquid!”

Her report was accurate: Not only was the ice cream carton she held full of melted ice cream, but every item on the top shelves of our freezer had thawed. The same was true of the refrigerator: The top shelves were noticeably warmer than the bottom.

I greeted my husband with the happy news when he got home from work. He called the appliance repairman, who couldn’t come until Friday -- four days later -- and who suggested that we manage the situation in the meantime by placing trays of ice on the refrigerator shelves.

This we did until, true to his word, the refrigerator repairman showed up on Friday. He investigated our fridge while I taught two daughters history, one daughter practiced her piano, and another daughter attempted to keep the cat from napping in the repairman’s toolbox.

After an hour, our appliance expert declared that all was well with the inner workings of our refrigerator. The problem, he suspected, was that we had food piled up too high on the shelves, blocking a couple of important vents.

I promised to take appropriate action, while inwardly wondering if the repairman had noticed that: (1) our refrigerator is not particularly large, and (2) our family is.

I can’t explain why so many appliances shut down on us over the past week, only to resume normal function on their own. I’m relieved, of course, although I’m eyeing the washer, dryer, and dishwasher fearfully. (The dishwasher has already given us some trouble, and it’s the same brand as the oven and the refrigerator, all of which we inherited when we bought our house. Due to my husband’s frequent frustration with this particular brand, my daughters will sometimes use it as a curse word.)

Having my confidence in our appliances shaken has renewed my appreciation of them. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I weren’t able to make coffee with the touch of a button, toss frozen food into the oven to make a meal, or switch on the lights as our darkest season approaches. I was shocked into gratitude by the realization that I’m just a few wires away from hunting and gathering.

Even if It takes a shock to remind us, it’s always good to be grateful. And sometimes, we can be the shock for others. For instance, at a check-up for two of my daughters this week, their pediatrician turned to me and said, “Thank you so much; you always make me feel like my own family is normal!”


Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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