We usually learn how to take care of things right after they first fail us. Dishwashers, relationships and cars come to mind.
I promised to take care of my mother when she came to visit recently. She was recovering from a nasty fall and I told my siblings that she and I would sit quietly on the front porch in the fresh air, eat plenty of vegetables and take short walks down the leafy sidewalks.
Which is why I'm unsure how we ended up at the Perry's ice cream stand in Lakewood for lunch one day. (It wasn't my idea.) We each ordered a huge banana split and ate the whole thing.
"Well," my mother said. "At least there was a banana in it."
I make a lousy nurse.
And a little later on that day, the dishwasher repairman came to diagnose my leaky dishwasher. Here was his diagnosis: "It'll cost a grand to fix it," he said.
"As in what?" I asked. "Grand larceny?"
"What could I have done better?" I asked him, putting my head on the counter.
"Is there anything I could have done to take better care of my dishwasher?"
"Nope," he said, "these little guys are designed to break every five to six years. It keeps the economy going."
Nothing like an honest repairman, but I'm glad mothers aren't designed the same way.
As I sat on my porch at the end of the day, I wondered if humanity has gotten to the point where we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. There are millions of people who must keep their refrigerators and their dishwashers in their prayers every night: "Here but by the grace of god goeth my appliances."
And even so, they all walk into the valley of death on a regular basis. I'm losing my faith.
Last month, our basement flooded and our generator stopped its weekly practice for reasons that are still unclear. We ordered a new tent for our tattered outdoor gazebo and we paid a plumber $139 to tell us that there was no clog identified anywhere after snaking our house for a mile or two.
"Then why does my sink keep backing up?" I asked.
"No idea," he said. "But be grateful your pipes are clear."
My car needs oil and new brakes. Our boxwood plants need replacing after a winter to beat all winters and our snow blower needs repair. Our property taxes have reached insanity and we just had to repaint portions of our house after last summer's wind storm.
I must admit that I'm a bit afraid of my own house. I tiptoe around asking things if they're OK. "Everything OK in there?" I ask the refrigerator. "Because if it's not, I need to know."
I haven't asked my husband that question in 10 years or more. If I don't plug you in, you just don't matter around here.
"How is your day going?" my husband will ask when he calls from work.
"Great. Nothing has broken today." I will say.
When I called him from the local appliance store I had all the correct buzzwords lined up to sell him on a new dishwasher. Those words were "cheap," "free installation," "coupon" and "energy saving."
Sold - and to the lady standing there with her hungry mother who has only had ice cream to eat all day.
I remember the ice box I grew up with. It had been my grandmother's and honestly, we all wished it had died long before it did.
My dad kept saying, "This refrigerator is perfectly fine. It was designed to last forever."
Never mind that the freezer was nothing short of a polar cave. The point was to never throw things out before their time.
We had less fear then. We didn't worry for our things, but more about each other.
There was more time and more confidence in who and what we were and what we owned.
Maybe that's why we seemed to be sturdier, more hopeful people.
Back then, a refrigerator might last forever, or so it seemed to be.
The best we can do right now is to simply try to take care of things.