The umbilical cord Mullens just can't sever

Posted Online: Sept. 03, 2014, 11:00 pm
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By Frank Mullen III
Earlier this summer, my wife and I decided not to replace our broken microwave oven. In many ways, our life on the prairie hearkens back to a bygone era. We have no air conditioner to break down, no television set to pollute our minds. We grow our own vegetables without chemicals and compost the leftovers. Surely life without a microwave would be just another step on the path to simplicity.

I am relieved to say that this two-month nightmare is over. Life without a microwave oven was a series of lessons in agony and impatience.

Reheating leftovers was no longer a pushbutton affair. Great stove top skills are needed to get last night's spaghetti sauce to the point at which it's warm enough that you don't have the sensation that you are eating diced raw clams, but not so hot that the first taste causes your spouse to scream "Fire!" and spit dinner on the rug.

Coffee, unfortunately, is not something that can be easily reheated. Sure, you can pour cold coffee into a pan and bring it to another boil, but if what you want is hideous, metallic coffee that tastes like it has been strained through a used oil filter, why not just join the Navy, where professionals will make it for you?

The trick is to keep the coffee from cooling in the first place. A thermos bottle will keep the coffee warm all day if you insulate it in a woolen ski cap, wrap the bundle in a terrycloth towel, jam it into a basket and set it on the kitchen counter in the sun.

Cooking corn became a time-consuming affair. It can take twenty minutes to boil enough water for two ears of sweet corn. I found that the process can be hastened slightly by standing over the stove and crying hot tears into the pot.

Performing daily tasks without a microwave is good for maintaining self-righteousness, but the joy of living in a nuclear-free zone eventually found its limits.

You don't reach age 65 without acquiring an inventory of permanent aches and pains, and I have my share. I'd become accustomed to treating my woes with bags of flax seed that can be quickly warmed in the microwave.

This was now impossible. I knew exactly how our forebears warmed their joints after a hard day behind the plow, but I refused to try it. You have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it just this side of hot water bottles. Hot water bottles are what Farmer Gray sits on after the mule kicks his rear end in Depression-era cartoons. Hot water bottles are what my grandmother slept with because the heat from her cast iron stove did not reach through the vent in her bedroom floor.

I would sooner have put on a starched collar and suspenders and sat on a bench at the corner of Main Street and First Avenue at high noon whittling corn cob pipes than be spotted with a hot water bottle. Eventually, I began to treat my maladies with the method our ancestors used before the invention of rubber: complaining. I sat in my recliner every night and whined to my wife about pulled muscles, sore arms, spasms, stiff neck and throbbing back.

If I have learned anything from this, it is the old-fashioned virtue of patience. After less than a week of my nightly rants and complaints, a new microwave oven appeared in the kitchen.

Evidently, my wife has her limits, too.
Frank Mullen III is a former New Yorker who now lives with his wife in her Aledo hometown.


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.

(More History)