“Thelma’s” Recycled Fridge and some thoughts on Growing Older

My son, Bryce thinks our Westinghouse washing machine is cool looking- “It looks retro,” he says. It was never important to me how our washing machine looked, or for that matter, any appliance, but I guess that is some kind of compliment. To me, it is just my mother’s old washing machine. I acquired it when she died 35 years ago and I grew up with it for 25 years before that. I guess that makes it ancient, at least an antique. Maybe the only model older is a wringer washer? We do have a newer washing machine in our basement, however. It was a friend’s old washer who upgraded and didn’t want her old one anymore although it worked fine. We took it as a back-up to moms but it’s been down there for over two decades, waiting on mom’s to die. We are “saving it.” We don’t just get rid of things and replace them with newer models unless they die or are on their last leg. We let our appliances live out their life.

Like our fridge. When I first moved out of my parents’ home nearly 40 years ago, and into my own apartment, I acquired a fridge that was in one of my dad’s rental apartments. His tenet did not pay her rent for many months so he had to bolt the door and confiscate her belongings. Her name was Thelma. The fridge was forever called “Thelma’s fridge.” I was inexperienced with defrosting a freezer. (Thelma’s fridge was not self-defrosting.) I got a butter knife and went to work dissecting the ice chunks and in the process, punctured the Freon. Although I had an appliance man come to my apartment to attempt to fix it, there was little he could do and it never kept things very cold after that. I just made do.  

After we were married, Todd and I both made do with this inferior fridge, until my editor friend gave me his old fridge, when he upgraded. We loved this “new” fridge for years until way too many plastic parts broke inside, like nearly every over-loaded shelf. Todd splurged and brought a brand-new fridge. It was completely new- right from the store. It was practically a life event.

This probably sounds incredibly strange to most of you but I can count on one hand, how many things we have bought new for our household, and that spans thirty years that we are living in our log home. Not a rug, or a lamp, or a sofa, or a chair, or a hutch, or a hassock. Todd either made it, it was salvaged, re-purposed, or it was a hand me down. We choose to use our little disposable money on world travel and just make do with these old things.

Our little apartment size, 20-inch gas range was purchased new however, thirty years ago when we moved into our log home. Before that, when we lived in a rent-free, uninsulated house on the Appalachian Trail under the Volunteers in the National Parks program, we cooked on a two-burner campstove. We didn’t mind it as this was an upgrade from our one burner, white gas Svea backpacking stove. We made do.

But lately, our gas stove was acting up. The oven gas flame would suddenly ROAR while you were in the middle of baking something. “What is that?” we asked, alarmed. “Who knows, but we better turn it off and let it settle down. It sounds dangerous.” The burners were fragile and if bumped, came unattached and once again potentially dangerous gas leaks. “Now this is getting stupid,” Todd and I both said to each other. “Time for a new gas range,” a big step for us.

Now that Todd has mastered accessing YouTube videos to learn things, my already very smart husband can now do almost anything, including choosing the best gas range, converting it from natural gas to propane, finding which hoses and parts he needs to install, testing for leaks with soapy water (gas leaks blow bubbles), and more.

It took a few days but we managed to hand truck the old range out to prepare for a trip to the scrap yard, and installed the new one. Todd slid it into place and fired it up. The electric ignition started right up (it was long dead on our last one), and a beautiful blue flame encircled the burner. I was anxious to cook.

The flame was like a blow torch, however, even on its lowest setting. No way would I be able to melt butter (we have no microwave), or simmer slowly. “I’ll deal with it,” I told Todd as he looke don frowning.

“Some reviews complained about this feature.” (Oh great, but this model was clearly the best with over 800 positive reviews). “There are instructions on how to adjust the flame,” Todd said. He had to first adapt a screw driver and grind it down to get it to fit into the narrow opening. The flame was successfully lowered and I marveled at my smart husband once again.

Then, when I put a little saucepan on the front burner, it slid off. What is this? Are the four arms that hold up the pot uneven, slanted? I pointed it out to Todd. He was nervous about pushing on them to bend them to make them level, afraid he’d break the solder joint. “I can make do,” I announce. “I’ll just hold onto my pots when I cook.” “Do you want me to take the stove back?” Todd asked. Now that would be monumental, after he already installed it.

He said he could make me new burner arms in the blacksmith forge. Well that sounded even more monumental. He very carefully pushed down on a few arms and it seemed to help. After I spilled some food or the shiny coating wore off a bit, the pots seemed to settle down and not travel. No wonder we are hesitant to replace what we are used to. I’m happy to announce however, that after a few days, this new gas range has found a happy home and we are now happy with it too. (I even have a light in the oven!)

Last weekend we went for a weekend get-away down to the Shenandoahs to hike with our kids and celebrate Sierra’s 31st b-day. We plugged our little ceramic Pelonis heater into a bathroom outlet to keep our home somewhat warm (we have no central heat but only heat with wood). When we came home, the house was cold and the heater was off- dead. It takes hours and hours to bring the house up to a warm temperature when we return home, as we have to heat up all the furniture too. Will we want to do this in ten years when we grow older? Will we get tired of the cold when we go away? (And I am not staying home in the winter just to feed a wood stove).

Todd was upset with the broken ceramic heater. We never feel completely confident leaving an unattended electric heater on while we are away and don’t think it’s completely unsafe, but a close friend recently had his house burn to the ground and so we wonder. Is this stupid? The ceramic heater is dead anyway and so back to the iPad to do research. Todd ordered a new, oil-filled electric baseboard heater and so we are set next time we go away. 

After this big snow, Todd’s forty-year old Gravely walk behind tractor died. This is after it died this past summer and he invested $1200 into fixing it. Back then, he wrestled with wondering if he should invest the money and fix this old tractor but it is so unique, with its many attachments. Todd can mow the pasture, plow snow, and even blow snow, so tossing it and all its attachments would be hard. He gave it another chance and fixed it. So after that transmission overhaul, how could it die again? After that bill, he expected it to live for another 30 years, but Todd said that only one side of the transmission was repaired and now the other side is probably dead.  

It broke down on our driveway as he was blowing snow and he had to get me to attempt to back the car to it and attach a rope to pull it back to the barn. But the drive was so slippery that I got the car stuck sideways and had to shovel and cinder the wheels to break it free. Our neighbor Rob came up and we manually rolled the wheels and pushed it to get it in its final resting place in the shed. Now what? Todd thinks it’s done and wished he would not have fixed it this past summer and put that money towards a newer tractor. He did say, “Someday I won’t want to walk 4 miles in circles to mow our pasture, but will want to sit and drive.” But that day is probably a good 10 years away at least, or so we thought until it broke.  Back to the iPad to learn about tractors.

Todd wants his next tractor to do everything- mow, plow and while it’s at it, lift logs too. He doesn’t want to buy multiple machines, nor can we afford it. We live a very modest lifestyle and a $600 gas range and a $60 portable heater is one thing. A $10,000 used tractor is another.

Todd and I have had some talks since his double hernia repair this November. I told him either he had to start to go small with his carvings or buy a lifting machine, or he’d be back in for more surgery. He won’t make ten more years at the rate that he is abusing his body as he moves 500 pound logs. He is very smart about balancing and using levers etc., but still. I told him he will be sitting in his chair and unable to pick up grandkids if he doesn’t start working smarter (as well as doing yoga to remain flexible). My kids told me to just buy it for him but where would I start- a backhoe, a bobcat, who knows and I frankly don’t want to nurture a tractor education.

My car sits at the bottom of the ½ mile driveway as Todd could not clean up our section of road after his tractor broke. Our neighbor very generously plows the main drive (we are responsible for cindering the north-facing hill and try to do our part) but everyone one else who lives on this Red Mountain either has a 4-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive vehicle. We drive less expensive vehicles. I don’t mind walking the road up and down the few days a winter we must do this. We can make do, but my car is getting old and the next one should get us up the road better. We will have to spring for the money and get a car that can motor through the snow better. Now, I just drive up the hill like a banshee and hope that I make it. Someday in the future, when we become geezers, or become decrepit, (10 years?) we won’t want to or be able to trek a mile through the snow and bad weather to get to the car at the bottom of the drive. (I do believe, however, that I will still be driving like a crazy woman in my old age). This past winter, with Todd’s double hernia recovery and my emergency gallbladder surgery, old age seemed closer than ever (albeit temporarily- we are back to being our normal beasts.) The kids had to travel here to take care of us as Todd’s surgery was during this winter’s first snow storm. Todd had to walk beside both Bryce and son-in-law Eben and teach them to drive the Gravely snow plow, but now even that is dead.  

Why are all these things dying? Because they are getting old. I guess we are too. We are still able to do everything we did when we were young, but how many more years can we go before we have to make adjustments?  Todd uses the figure- ten years. But I guess as these things break and need to be replaced, we should think about replacing them with something that will make our lives easier or safer. Unfortunately, we haven’t traveled in the last year or so because of covid and so are have the extra money to buy a heater and a gas range and even a tractor. Although I do like my new fridge and my new stove and Todd will love his tractor when he buys it, personally for me, I’d rather be using that money to ride horse across Mongolia, or hike across New Zealand or cycle around Taiwan. We figure we might only have about ten good years left.

13 thoughts on ““Thelma’s” Recycled Fridge and some thoughts on Growing Older Leave a comment

  1. Well-said, as always. Here’s the good news: No one can predict the future (they pretend they can, but they can’t). However, my guess is that you have much more that 10 years! I am 68, my husband is 66. We built our house from the ground up, we have done extensive travel, from wilderness canoe trips to river cruises, and the seven continents. Two years ago, we made the decision to upgrade from a tent to an Airstream (OK, I gave up the tent after third knee surgery, Ralph can still make it work). But we still use our 40-year old 2-burner camp stove, because we love to cook outdoors and it works!

    My Aunt Gen, who loved to travel, always said, “As you get older, you can’t do everything you used to do, but there is always something new that you haven’t tried yet.” You have always been so thoughtful with your resources, but now is the time to upgrade things that will allow you to continue doing what you love, without injuring your health or needing replacement parts (knee replacement is miserable – but it works).

    Grandparenting is one of the greatest joys in life, but it takes energy and strength. So if replacing tools, devices, or equipment, allow you the pure joy to hike the trails or play in the snow with the little ones, then just do it! You can replace things, but you can never replace time with children.

      1. You will be a wonderful grandmother. And I cannot wait for you to write the new edition: “Kid’s in the Wild – Round 2.” I sure could use that right now.

  2. Plaza Hardware on Rt 309 in New Tripoli, is a metal recycling drop off. They often have used appliances there that still work and are for sale…… Occasionally, they get the odd tractor….

  3. Totally agree with your values on ‘things’ and love how you write a story. While we all slow down at some point and need to be more mindful of how we take care of ourselves, don’t stop moving. Keep the adventures coming! Sue

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