Tale of an overachieving toaster

Its zeal was sudden and short-lived. But it changed me.

Photo illustration by Ann Hermes/Staff
No, this is not the author's toaster.

I pay about as much attention to small appliances as I do the spiderweb that has been dangling in the corner of the bedroom for the past six months. The only time such devices receive serious notice from me is when they fail to perform. The toaster, however, has changed me.

As toasters go, ours is pretty average. So it was a surprise when one morning, unprovoked, it began performing its toasting tasks with unprecedented vigor. Per usual, I had popped two halves of an English muffin into its long, lone slot, jammed down the lever, and turned my back on it to make tea. 

This day, however, the sound of the lever releasing its hold on the freshly toasted muffin was followed by an audible encore: the gentle thud of half the muffin landing on the counter and the soft crash of the other half hitting the floor. I figured it was a fluke and that next time, the toaster would settle back into its normal pattern of gently delivering perfectly toasted products. 

I was wrong. It continued to overachieve.

The small appliance had come into my life as an Easter gift from my husband. At the time, I had puzzled over the significance of a toaster for the holiday, but I believe the motivation was simply that we needed one. And as the last four letters of the words toaster and Easter provide a pleasant note of consonance, I tried to abandon my search for further meaning. 

While I don’t typically keep track of the acquisition dates of small appliances, certain major events, in this case hurricane Katrina, which devastated our home city of New Orleans in 2005, provide a further reference point. I received the toaster a couple of years before the storm, which makes the toaster about 14 years of age. Of course, given its mechanical nature and our daily demands for its service, I wonder just how toaster years compare. I suspect they might lean toward the 7-to-1 ratio we reference as dog years, but that’s only a guess. If that were the case, the toaster would be closer to 98.

But even at 14, I would expect a small, mechanical toasting device to be waning by now. Whatever had triggered our toaster’s sudden zeal for its duties, the event felt worthy of some gesture of appreciation – at the very least, by indulging in a daily game of catch. I attempted this with a plate positioned where I predicted the tossed toast would land, but I discovered that each delivery varied slightly. I became increasingly intrigued by this feisty little machine and decided to memorialize its distinction among our family of appliances by capturing its latest feat in a photo. After several failed attempts, I finally caught the action with a live shot.

The toaster’s trick made me wonder about the hidden strengths of the other appliances sitting around the kitchen. I began to consider which gadget might next be inspired to erupt from its routine into hyperactivity or go rogue entirely. I eyed suspiciously the old drip coffeemaker, nearly as old as the toaster. Would it one day transform its trickle of coffee into a torrent? Might the hand mixer, next time I used it, rev up and take off like a helicopter?

Recently, as suddenly and as inexplicably as it began its spirited behavior, the toaster returned to normal, faithfully delivering its contents in a controlled and predictable manner. 

But the toaster had changed me. It caused me to take notice and appreciate these small, pedestrian mechanical servants that serve me so reliably, all the while expecting little more in return than an occasional wipe with a damp dishcloth. 

I’m committed to keeping this daily gratitude stoked and to extend it around me to less-tangible forms of abundance. Should my appreciation wane, I suspect there’s a small appliance primed and ready to teach me another exuberant lesson.

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