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My Break Downs

Perel Grossman

“So I took out the new vacuum and plugged it into the wall there.” As if on cue, smoke wafts from the slits of the outlet. “And that’s when it happened. Flames, Ma, actual flames came leaping out of the outlet…”

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


>“Ma?” she ventures, “What are we going to do about the melted electrical cord?” I calmly explain to her that Pesach will simply have to be canceled or rescheduled. (Illustrations: Vivi Keilson)

Maybe it’s me.

Maybe I just don’t know how to get along with appliances. I try to be kind to them. I mean, I refrain from smashing them against the wall in utter frustration… most days. But they just don’t seem to like me. I don’t get any respect or loyalty from them. Ever.

My first run-in with a major appliance occurred when I was a young, naive newlywed. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the tale involves my first home-cooked meal, an ancient oven, a shattered window, and a close shave with calamity.

My more recent cooking-related adventure occurred on Erev Yom Tov. Naturally. It went something like this:

The kitchen emits growls, whirrs, and bings, as the food processor and electric mixer vie for the title of Noisiest Small Appliance, with little competition from the wimpy timer. (However, if the timer’s ping goes unheeded, the next sound will surely drown out the competition, as the entire Spring Valley Fire Department, sirens wailing and lights flashing, zooms to a screaming halt on Green Hill Lane.)

One grandchild has bitten through a bag of sugar, and is running around and around the kitchen island, creating concentric circles of grainy sweetness to mark his territory.

The hum (roar) of the vacuum cleaner indicates the whereabouts of our trusty cleaning woman, Elajandra. That roar ceases with a sudden blurp. Ah! Elajandra has found that missing sock.

I was raised in a home where we ate chometz up to the last possible moment. And I’m very zealous about carrying on my minhagim. Especially those related to chocolate cake

I’m trying to make applesauce, which nobody actually eats, but I feel like a bad mother if I don’t produce and serve it. That’s because my mother made applesauce for every Shabbos and Yom Tov. It’s kind of our minhag. Nobody ate hers, either. That’s our minhag too.

I rip my gaze from the grandchild who’s removing parts of the couch that aren’t meant to be detachable, when a glowing orb on the milchig stove catches my eye.

“Who left the gas on?” I demand, equal parts curiosity and outrage. (Um… maybe not exactly equal.)

No response. I try again, this time clearing my throat for emphasis. “AHEM. I said, ‘WHO LEFT THE GAS ON?’ ”

A couple of daughters turn their heads to see who’s gonna get into trouble. Silence prevails.

“B’makom she’ain anashim…” I declare pompously.

“You mean ‘nashim’!” corrects someone.

Hey, who’s the humorist around here?

With a sigh, I stalk over to the offending gas burner and violently twist it to the “off” position. Nada. The flames continue to dance defiantly in my face. Hmmmm… I turn the knob to “light,” then back to “off.” The flames continue to flicker brightly. Then I try 200 more times, just to be sure. Well, close to 200.

A helpful child comes to my aid, pursing her lips in preparation to blow out the flames.

“Make a wish!” enjoins a wise guy son-in-law.

“Waiiit!” I clamp a hand over her mouth as her eyes dart frantically right and left. I release my grip when she starts biting.

“Am I to be kidnapped in my own home???” she demands in a high-pitched damsel-in-distress tone. Somebody’s been reading too many old classics.

“Of course not! I was just trying to stop you from extinguishing the fire!” I explain reasonably. She looks perplexed. I elucidate further: “I think the gas won’t shut off, so if you blow out the fire, we could be setting ourselves up for a gas explosion, chas v’shalom.”

“Yeah… so???” she counters in flagrant teenager know-it-all style.

“SO, if there is no fire, and the gas continues to flow…”

Understanding dawns.

“Well, ya didn’t hafta assault me! Use your words, Ma!” (This, the result of $30,000 worth of college credits.) (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 537)

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