It is a truth universally known that appliances die in threes. You watch in helpless dread when the dishwasher starts leaking, because you know your breakdown woes have just begun. Appliance blight will almost certainly spread. You can only hope it chooses a minor appliance like the toaster or blender as the next victim, but you know the neighboring stove and fridge are vulnerable. It may even, horror-of-homeowner-horrors, jump floors to infect the furnace.
Three is bad enough, but that’s supposed to be the end of it. It’s practically a law of nature, right? Which is why I’m protesting; I seem to be getting more than my share.
This year started off well enough. My husband, Bill, retired at the end of last year and I cut way back on my hours at work. We rented a house in Arizona for the month of February, trying new things and avoiding the worst of a horrid Illinois winter. Bill wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, but we still had a great trip. Shortly after we got home we both experienced Montezuma’s Revenge, something one associates with 3rd world countries, not central Illinois. Bill got it worse than I. We had our well tested and I was with Bill, in the hospital again, when we got the results: our water was contaminated with both coliform and e-coli, a particularly nasty bug. The well company come out the next day and bombed the well with chlorine and I started lugging jugs of water from Bill’s sister’s house while we waited for the chlorine to do its job.
A week later the water softener we had been renting for more than 20 years died. I like my poisoned water to be soft, so the Culligan guy came out to go over options. We wound up having a new one installed to the tune of $2,300.
We had the well tested again the following week, and still had the double whammy of coliform and e-coli. I scheduled the well company to come and chlorine-bomb it again; $160 minimum each time they turned into the driveway.
The next week our refrigerator, which was only 8 years old, got bored with the same-old, same-old of keeping the temperatures at 0 in the freezer and 37 in the refrigerator. It wanted to mix things up and started playing Dial-a-Temp, gifting me with frozen carrots and pasta salad, along with semi-liquid ice cream. I called the local repair/sales place who had originally installed most of our appliances and the repairman came to look at the fridge. He sat in my driveway for 15 minutes. When he came in he didn’t take out a single tool, didn’t break a sweat or even bend over – just opened the fridge door, looked in and announced it would cost $500-600 to fix, supposing he could get the parts, which was a big suppose. I said no thank you. Time for a new one.
I did my due diligence; checked out Consumer Reports, asked friends, then went comparison shopping. I found out there’s some sort of chip shortage due to Covid (everything is due to Covid), so refrigerators are as hard to find as a helpful customer service person at the DMV. The local place didn’t have anything under $2200, and even at that price they couldn’t guarantee a delivery date. I went to every place in town and a couple places out of town looking for something that was in stock, would fit my small space and would not break the bank. Slim pickings. I settled on one for $1500 from a big-box store and scheduled delivery for 2 weeks later. I adjusted the temperature on my current fridge 10 times a day and prayed that it wouldn’t die before the replacement arrived.
Since I wasn’t buying from them, the local shop sent me a bill for $89 for the 15 minutes their teenage repairman had spent standing in front of my open fridge.
The next week I asked the guy who mows the lawn for an estimate to take down a small, dead maple tree that was leaning precariously close to my screen porch. He looked around and pointed to a much larger tree, which was also leaning toward the house, and which towered over both the maple tree and the house. “That’s the bigger risk,” he announced, “it’s also dying. About $750 should take care of both of them, unless we run into problems.” I told him to put in on his schedule.
Time for another water test. I’d been hauling water back and forth from the in-laws for more than a month, going so far as to boil water on the (still working, thank God) stove a couple of times like I was living in a Little House on the Prairie episode. Surely everything was OK now? The email I received from the lab the next day said that my water woes were here to stay.
The day of the new refrigerator finally dawned. I spent the evening before cleaning out the old one: saying goodbye to a trash bag full of my fast food condiment hoard, frozen produce and a surprisingly large assortment of ancient, half-used bottles of sauces and dressings. I transferred everything that would fit from the freezer section to the chest freezer down the basement, then lugged up and cleaned out coolers in preparation for the big day. When the deliverymen called to say they were 20 minutes away I loaded all the perishables into the coolers and dragged them into the dining room. They had to remove my front door, no fun when it’s over 90 degrees outside, and they broke my mom’s sterling silver candelabra in the process, but soon the new fridge was installed. I waited a couple of hours while the new unit cooled, then reversed the unloading process.
That evening I went down the basement to start a load of wash. I was pleased to have one problem solved and was considering a more permanent water solution as I pulled the knob out on the washing machine to start it filling, and…nothing. No mechanical sounds, no water. I checked the water lines – they looked good. The thing was plugged in. I tried the dryer – also nothing. Aha! If neither one was working something must have tripped a circuit. Easy peasy, problem solved! I flipped the breaker back on, heard a popping sound and the breaker flipped itself back off. Hmmm. I flipped the breaker on, yet again, and wisps of smoke started coming out of my 23-year-old Top Loading Maytag Washer.
I’m not mechanically inclined, but even I know that it is a very bad sign when an appliance smokes. I unplugged both the washer and dryer and monitored them for a few minutes to make sure the house wasn’t about to go up in flames, then trudged upstairs, defeated.
I had been a savvy shopper with the fridge. With the washer, I didn’t care. The next day I drove to a local store, the same store that was charging me $89 for 15 minutes of their repairman’s time. I asked the sales-lady in the showroom if they had a washing machine in stock. Any washing machine. I didn’t care about the brand, the color, whether it was high efficiency, was programmable or came in an on-trend Midnight Charcoal Brushed Quartz finish. If it was in stock and affordable, if it meant I wouldn’t be beating underwear against the rocks in our creek, I would write a check that very minute. If, I added, they would waive the $89 fee for the fruitless refrigerator visit a couple of weeks earlier. For some reason, that had become important to me. Getting that fee waived had become a symbol that the universe was still fair, my recent experiences to the contrary.
She explained that $89 was their minimum service call charge, even though they were 5 minutes down the road from me and the guy merely stopped by on his way back to the shop at the end of the day. But I think she could tell that I was at the end of my rope. My chin was quivering, despite my best efforts, my eyes were filling with tears and I was having a hard time keeping it together. She agreed to waive the service fee. She wrote up the sale – I don’t even remember what it cost – and scheduled delivery; I paid and practically ran to my car. Fastest major appliance sale ever.
I lost it once I was safely in my car. I put my head down and covered my face so people outside couldn’t see me, wouldn’t hear me wail as great, gulping sobs wracked my body. I couldn’t stop crying. It was too much.
The water softener, the well, Bill, the refrigerator, the trees, and now the washing machine – it was the last straw. It was too much loss, too many deaths, all in a few, short months. I didn’t know how I could bear it.
Eventually I stopped crying. I took deep, shuddering breaths, wiped my streaming eyes and nose with my sleeve, and slowly calmed down. At last I felt able to put the car into gear, back out of the appliance store parking lot and drive home, tired to my bones.
I know life will go on. I know that eventually the pain of loss will lessen and I won’t cry all the time, as I am doing at this very moment, as I type this. But I loved my 23-year-old Top Loading Maytag Washer – I don’t think I fully appreciated how deeply until it was gone. And, dear God, I will miss it every day, for as long as I live.
READ THIS PLEASE: While the bits about my appliances are all true, hiding in the fluff is the only loss that I give a damn about.
Bill, my dear husband of 38 years, died.
It was my bad if anyone felt uncomfortable because they missed the main point. Humor has long been my way of coping, and it is so difficult to say it, straight out. It’s still so difficult to believe.
Rest in peace, my love.
7/9/1954 – 3/27/2021