Microwave oven heats up many warm memories

10/20/2013 5:00 PM

10/20/2013 6:30 PM

Microwave ovens slowly let users know when they have had it.

They’re like an aging prizefighter who punches with everything he has, but it’s clear to anyone watching that the former champion no longer has the juice. Spectators like homeowners keep the champ around because he has been a crowd-pleaser for a long time — looking as good as always — but everyone knows that he’s just not the same.

My aging microwave oven was the second one I’ve ever owned. The first heated up infant formula for my daughters after each was born, warmed meals after work, did a little cooking and popped popcorn in my first house.

It seemed like an incredible advancement from the way my mom had reheated food and popped popcorn in a skillet on a gas stove. Gas was an innovation compared with my dad’s mom having to build a fire in a wood stove just to get the oven hot enough to boil water or heat an iron to press clothes for her family.

The microwave as a household appliance fit the fast-paced, space-age lifestyle of jet-setting baby boomers. Mom was never fond of baby boomers, and it took years after I got my first microwave to get her to relent and accept one, too.

But afterward, you couldn’t convince her or Dad to give it up. However, microwave ovens don’t last as long as gas stoves. Not long after leaving the first house in South Hyde Park, the microwave oven started to lose power.

Standard heating times just didn’t yield the same results, and making popcorn became out of the question. Replacing it took a trip to the Wal-Mart.

The new 2.0-cubic-foot microwave was big enough to cook a casserole. It also had a carousel so that whatever went inside got heated more evenly. And it still fit on the counter and looked fantastic.

That Sharp microwave performed wonderfully, allowing both daughters to feel self-sufficient in making breakfast, lunch and dinner, and lasted past each finishing college and going off on her own.

The family microwave moved with me from that south Kansas City house to a loft apartment downtown. I then hauled it to my third house in the Northeast area.

It fit snugly and handsomely on the counter as if it were made for the spot. There was even room for the old coffeemaker to sit next to it.

But by this fourth year in my Northeast area home, the microwave started to show its age. Somehow it still mustered the juice needed to heat food. But the push-pad numbers stopped working.

First the “three” went out. It must have been a number that was used a lot to heat things for 30 seconds or three minutes.

That caused me to start punching in 29 seconds to quickly heat similar items. That worked for a while. But then the “two” and the “nine” no longer functioned. The turning point came with daylight savings. The microwave just wouldn’t enable me to reset the clock.

That unit was about 20 years old. That seemed close to new by my standards.

I remember neighborhood kids who worked at Dad’s St. Louis chemical company in the 1960s often joked that nothing in the place was less than 20 years old. Dad kept machinery, clothes and other things functioning well past when normal people would’ve replaced them.

I, too, resemble that remark. The last microwave was simply saying that it was time to let go. My partner, Bette, and I did some comparison shopping and found a 2.0-cubic-foot General Electric microwave replacement at Lowe’s.

It took up more counter space than the old unit, but everything works. The green digital clock also is so bright that it might as well be a nightlight for the kitchen.

If this unit lasts 20 years like the last one did, I’ll be age 78. Who knows how we will heat food in 2033, but it will be exciting to find out.

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