Crow's-Feet Chronicles: All she wanted for Christmas…
By Cindy Baker Burnett
Dec 17, 2018
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I remember the year my dad (the last of the Great Romantics) gave my mom a toaster for Christmas.  It was a four-slice variety, but in place of the simple “push down” bar, there was a panel of controls complicated enough to run the entire Strategic Air Command.

On the lower-left corner was a color-choice knob, offering light, medium, dusk, or dark, and opposite that was a knob to choose the texture of the toast:  firm, soft, or someplace-in-between.  A heat-control thermostat could be adjusted for frozen bread, fresh bread, stale bread, pastry, and even buns, while yet another knob set the toaster on “keep warm” (for the benefit of the kid who was still upstairs looking for his socks).  There was a clip to open the panel so one could clean the crumb tray (just in case the toaster ever got into the hands of a housewife who cleans her crumb trays), while two more knobs seemed to be meaningless; perhaps they were just for decoration.

“This is a terrific toaster,” Mama told Daddy sincerely, “but it’s so complicated, I’ll never get the hang of it.”

“That’s what the directions are for,” he said.  “Aren’t there directions with it?”

“Sixteen pages of them,” Mama said, as she riffled through the booklet, “four pages in Japanese, four in German, four in some language that looks like Swedish, and four pages of diagrams which do not bear the faintest resemblance to this appliance.  I think the Japanese have finally wreaked their revenge for World War II.”

“You shouldn’t need directions,” said my dad.  “It’s just a toaster; anybody should be able to figure out how it works.”

By eight o’clock the next morning Mama was ready to send out for the Anybody to whom Daddy had referred.  She had spent forty-five minutes decoding the color control, interpreting the texture regulator, solving the secret of the thermostat, checking out the crumb tray, and puzzling over the two mystery switches, which she finally realized were for “on” and “off.”  But she had set and reset all the switches in varying shades, textures, and temperatures to no avail.  The toaster would not work.

When Daddy came down to breakfast, Mama said, “You’ll have to return this toaster; it’s defective.  I think there is something the matter with the heating element.  The bread keeps popping up bread.”

My dad turned the toaster over and around and upside down, checking knobs, switches, and controls, and then said, “You’re right; it’s the heating element.  It won’t heat unless you plug it in.”

Well how was she to remember that, when the plug and cord were neatly tucked out of sight and mind in that hidden compartment?  Even Mama admitted that she wasn’t electronically oriented, but maybe that was because she was raised in an era when electronics had not yet entered the dictionary, let alone the common kitchen.

Mama was way ahead of Daddy the next year.  She said to him, “For Christmas this year, I want a gift that is pretty, and expensive, and totally feminine.  Furthermore, I don’t want anything useful.”  He followed her instructions to the letter.  He gave Mama a beautiful and expensive purse, which was totally useless because she couldn’t figure out the tricky clasp, or find the secret compartment, or unsnap the stubborn key chain, or disentangle the photo-ident-credit-card case, or fit her checkbook into the designated pocket.

The next year she asked him for a diamond ring, and she said she didn’t even care if it came unassembled.