Yesteryear’s Memories: The Magic of the Microwave


It was around 1966 — my family went to visit a friend. She was quite a cook, and had all kinds of shiny pots and pans hanging from a rack above the kitchen table. It was evident that she liked all the gadgets that went with her cooking hobby and many of the items were unknown to me, but I was impressed all the same. There were mixers and grinders and gleaming stainless steel utensils everywhere, but she took the opportunity to show us her newest acquisition. It was like a big box with a door and a couple dials on the front, and was actually a unit meant for restaurants. This sleek and futuristic device was a microwave oven, and we were in awe of the machine. Of course we’d heard about them, but this was the first we’d ever seen. She explained some of the things it could do, and she even put a whole potato in and turned it on. She went on to say that it would be cooked in just a minute or two. Unbelievable. And it was true. The thing came out steaming and soft and ready to eat.

A few years later, microwaves became common. They got down to tabletop size and were used in homes as well as restaurants. I had a friend in high school who worked part time in the kitchen of a popular restaurant. He was in charge of preparing salads and prepping foods in advance, and he liked his job. The only problem was that he didn’t like his boss. He complained that he was demanding and demeaning, and was prone to yell and berate the workers. Maybe the stress of a fast-paced kitchen was too much for them both, but at any rate there was tension. Tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. In fact, one day that’s exactly what the argument was about – the boss said something like, “You’re so bad at your job and you’re inept. If you cut your finger off slicing up those tomatoes, don’t come crying to me!” At least, that’s what my friend reported. I think they both exaggerated, but whatever transpired, my friend had had enough. He decided to quit on the spot. Had he just walked out, it would be one little insignificant event. But no, we humans sometimes go a little overboard. My friend just had to do something on the way out. The instructions on the microwave stated “never put metal in the microwave oven.” So yeah, you guessed it. He loaded up a big double handful of knives, forks and spoons. Placed them ever so gently in the commercial sized oven. Set the dial to the max time and power — and left.

I heard about the event from another worker. I guess it made a lightning storm look like the serene calmness of an Irish meadow. He said the flashes of blue white light rays danced across the kitchen and rivaled the grandeur of a thousand shooting stars. It was like an arc-welder on steroids. The pops and crackles were awe-inspiring in their sheer intensity, and bolts of electric energy zapped through the space and reverberated off the steel counters, slowly making the whole room vibrate like rolling thunder dying in the distance. It only ended when a fuse somewhere gave its last full measure of devotion and abruptly stopped the show.

Well maybe that story was exaggerated a bit, but I’m sure it got the attention of the kitchen boss when he had to reset the circuits to get the lights back on. At any rate, it just demonstrates the fact that technology is a great boon to mankind and can help us do things faster and easier. But then again, we have to be careful what we ask for. Any device that can cook a potato to steaming softness in one minute must be able to accomplish other amazing feats. Just read the instructions, wear eye protection, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t stick a fork in it until it’s done.

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