A toaster oven was one of the things I tossed when I moved to Albany three years ago. It had been in our basement for years, moved there from an earlier basement 17 years earlier. I’d never used it, but kept it as a reminder of generational shift.
At some point in the 1990s I mentioned to my mother, who was living in Alaska at the time, that I needed a new toaster. Don’t get a new toaster, she said, when you can have a toaster over. She’d send me one.
What arrived was the toaster she’d driven to Alaska from Virginia. I remembered it from the mid-1970s. It was wrapped in a Sitka Sentinel newspaper and hadn’t been cleaned in decades.
My parents were born during the Great Depression. They passed this fact on in stories, habits, and objects. Until her passing, my mom would keep washing sponges until they disintegrated in her dishwasher, or the dishwasher would break from all the sponge detritus it had collected over the years.
My father would take back Christmas presents he’d given and then regift them.
My sister has similar habits based on the ideas we learned about thrift. Stopping to eat when driving long distances wastes time and money. Picnicking when overseas is almost as good as eating in bistros and cafes.
I kept telling myself that this 30-year-old toaster that travelled from basement to basement was a reminder to me not to continue the Depression lessons I’d learned. I kept this keepsake for many years.
What generational tics am I passing on to my kid? I wonder. Many my age worship canons of music, film, and literature picked up years earlier, and keep our minds closed to additions. My kid tells me that I’m too obsessed with money, with keeping strict rules regarding time. He says people my age believe there are rules we all need to follow.
I’m beginning to suspect that the treasures and tics we carry with us won’t even be a ripple in the ocean of change.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.