New flame

This stove worked fine since that day it first came into my life 42 years before. Until it didn’t.

WESTMINSTER — The first time I bought a stove was when my husband and I moved into the 20'x20' shack that was on the land we had bought. We figured we'd be able to live in that tarpapered room constructed on a foundation of nail kegs filled with cement while we built our own home.

It had a wood cookstove already, but I wanted gas, so we shopped around at used appliance stores and other inexpensive places, finally getting a line on a gas Kenmore at an estate auction.

We sat through the entire proceeding waiting for the stove to be brought up for bidding, but it never appeared. People were wandering off, having gotten what they'd come for.

Finally, it was getting dark, and we were the only ones left. The auctioneer was shuffling his papers and talking to the realtor when we approached him.

“What about the gas range?” I asked him.

“Oh, it's still out there by the barn. Didn't figure anyone'd be interested in it - it's pretty old,” he told us.

“It's what we're here for, “ I told him.

“Sorry, didn't realize,” he said. “Make me an offer.”

“How about $5?” I suggested, knowing to start out low.

I'd never really liked this business of bargaining, but lately I'd gotten the hang of it. And, of course, now I was getting a chance to perfect my skill - bargaining with an auctioneer, someone whose profession was bargaining.

But he didn't give me a chance to hone my skills in that department. He just wanted to get home.

“Sounds fine,” he said, holding out his hand.

I laid a $5 bill onto his palm, and off we went to load our gas stove into the truck.

That was in 1971.

* * *

Now, on a recent Sunday in 2013, I measured out the ingredients for a poppy seed cake and went to light the oven of that same stove for pre-heat.

When I didn't hear the usual whoosh of the gas flame coming on along the length of the heating element, at first I was confused.

This stove had worked just fine since that day it first came into my life 42 years before. Why wasn't it lighting? Could I have run out of gas?

I turned on one of the burners and it lit right up, so that wasn't the problem. Maybe the pilot?

I opened the oven door and lifted its floor to reveal the heating element, and there was the pilot light, burning bright as ever.

“Darn!” I thought. I didn't know where to go from there. Thank goodness I hadn't started mixing the wet ingredients yet. I guess the cake will have to wait for another day, I thought.

The next day, I called the appliance repair guy and described the problem to him.

“How old is that range again?” he asked.

“Well, it was old in 1971,” I told him, not mentioning that I'd always just assumed it would last forever.

“Could be any number of things,” he said, “but sounds like the heat sensor.”

I was relieved to hear it was just something simple.

“So when would you be able to come fix it?” I ask.

“Prob'ly too old to get that part anymore,” he said.

I didn't like the feel of dropped hopes, so I tried to reignite them. “Can you come up and take a look anyway?” I asked.

“Okay,” he agreed, although reluctantly.

The next day when I get home from work there's a note on my counter: “Couldn't fix it. -John T.”

After my disappointment passed, I realized two things:

1) I'll have to start shopping for a new stove; and

2) John T. hasn't left a bill.

And I had two responses:

1) I'll start looking on Craigslist; and

2) Maybe he's going to mail it.

* * *

On Craigslist, I found several stoves, even some Kenmores, which I realized I now have a preference for since the other one had seen me through so much of my life.

I wasn't in a big hurry since I don't do a lot of cooking, and what I do do mostly requires the burners (that oven problem could have been there for many weeks, for all I know). Still, I thought, it would be good to use those dry ingredients I've already mixed up for the poppy-seed cake.

Measuring the space where that old friend still heats my tea water and grills my cheese sandwiches, I found that it was 29.75 inches wide. Most of the stoves on Craigslist are listed at 30 inches wide. Are they just estimating? Or has standard stove width grown by a quarter inch in all those intervening years?

I noticed one place way off in eastern New Hampshire that seemed to have several stoves for sale - different brands, gas or electric, large price range. I decided to call.

“'Lo,” a man's voice said.

“Hi. I'm calling about gas ranges,” I told him. “I've got a space 29{3/4} inches and wonder if your 30-inch measurement is actual or an estimate.”

“You wanted gas or electric?”


“Wait'll I go measure,” he said.

A few minutes later he's back on the phone.

“Got three Kenmores. One 29{3/4}, the other two 30 inches exact.”

“Okay, thanks,” I told him. “I'll go do some more measuring and get back to you.”

“Yep,” he said, and we hung up.

Next, I called Bob, my neighbor who fixes things for me. After some measuring on his own and some messing around with the gas line, he figured I could get away with the 30-inch Kenmore I'd found in Swanzey.

Getting it from so close to home would make it worth the extra wrangling it'd take to remove some of the drywall to make the extra room we'd need.

The woman in Swanzey needed the stove gone by the weekend - that's when the new people would be moving in. My daughter lives only a mile or so from the stove location and actually volunteered to pick it up for me since she had to be coming over my way with her truck that Saturday anyway.

Wow! I thought. Things are really falling into place!

And even better: when Bob came to get the old faithful stove out of its space, he discovered that due to the slope of the floor and uneven installation of the cabinets bordering the stove space, the 30-inch stove should fit without messing with the drywall.

* * *

The following week I was telling this whole story to a friend at the pool.

“But you say the stove was only about 50 years old?” she asked.

“Well, probably less than 60, anyway - there's really no telling,” I said.

“But look at us!” she said. “We're over 70, and we still work fine. They should have been able to fix it.”

“Yeah, well - our burners still work fine,” I said, “but I'm not so sure about our ovens.”

We laughed, and I told her I'd bring her a piece of poppy seed cake soon.

Then I remembered John T.

If he'd been a doctor, I'd owe him a small fortune, but I still haven't heard from him. I guess I'll just made a guess and send him a check.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates