Recollections of a Small Town
WHEN THE ICEBOX DIED
Limited by my perspective of a short span of life, the death of the
icebox was not a sad event at all. The important thing was the birth of
an electric refrigerator to replace it, duly greeted with squeals of delight.
This servant of mankind would make ice cubes. It would make a passable
tray of ice cream by using something called Val’s Basic recipe, add your
own flavor and stir before the mess freezes. Heck, I thought it was good
because it was cold, smooth and sweet.
Only later we realized how much we missed hearing the bell on the
ice wagon, running to catch the big scales hanging from the rear, snatching
chips of cold bliss to hot tongues. Then we watched awestruck as this big
man in the black leather apron tonged a great block of ice to the rear
of the wagon, chipped a line with expert jabs of his ice pick; miraculously
the block broke off a slab just the right size and weight for our icebox!
My best estimate is about thirty dollars a year at the highest price it
commanded BD [Before Duke].
When the icebox died we traded away a bit more of self-sufficiency
for a bit of convenience. Perishables would be safe longer, some could
be frozen–and the derned thing made edible ice cream for undiscerning taste
buds of eight-year-olds. Even so, we became more dependent on–and vulnerable
to–electricity, the high technology of that age. Yes, there were electric
lights in the house.
The wiring was primitive, consisting of a single drop and bulb in
the center of each room.
Later, some table lamps were rigged with extensions draped from the
ceiling fixture, but a power outage was never a reason for panic or even
great concern. Kerosene lamps were abundant after all, and reliable aids
to finish chores and light the way to bed. That was before the electric
If a question about our growing dependence arose, it was quickly
overtaken by practical considerations. How long will the fresh pork chops
be safe? Should I fry them for breakfast, then the round steak for dinner?
What about the milk going blinky? Worries in the night.
Today is Sunday, March 7, 2004. It was a beautiful day, warm and
sunny. For me a small breakfast, a church service, and a delicious lunch
with good friends. Later at home, the wind was rising, fulfilling predictions.
And more. At sundown I checked my e-mail. And the power went out with a
great boom on the next block.
Back to 1935 with a larger check list to run through. Where’s the
nearest flashlight? Are the lantern batteries fresh and do I have replacements?
Get candles and light one or two in kitchen and bedroom. Refrigerators
with slim walls now don’t keep food as long as the old ones. House will
get cold. All of us know the drill. We curse the darkness–and some take
it out on the power supplier!
We just don’t like having our dependence thrown in our face.
I wonder if Charles Darwin would have been astonished at how quickly
this species adapts to comfort and convenience, given our poor survival
skills in adverse conditions.
December 26, 2006.
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