All I want for Christmas

A week before Christmas and I finally know what I want to find under the tree. The first clue emerges on entering the house and the smell of smoke assaults the senses. The empty space on the counter hints of something missing. Waking up with a yen for a breakfast of eggs, toast and juice provides the third and final clue.
Oh, we have plenty of eggs. No problem. We have a jug of juice just inside the refrigerator door. And I keep re-stocking the bread and butter. But try and toast that bread and the whole plan for breakfast falls apart.

And it’s all my fault.

I read one of those cool hints on the Internet. Someone, somewhere came up with this great idea to turn a toaster on its side to make an open-faced, toasted grilled cheese sandwich. I pointed it out to my husband.

He tried it and was quite pleased with the results. Of course, being the kind husband that he is, he left the toaster on its side in case I wanted to try a calorie-reducing trick to cut out one slice of bread.

I didn’t want to use the idea until a couple of days later when I had this lovely piece of cornbread in hand. I really wanted it hot and a bit crunchy. I’ve put cornbread in the toaster before. I slid it onto the shelf of the slot and pushed the lever to start the heating of the elements.

Figuring I had a minute or two, I went to the back of the house for some reason. I stayed longer than planned and, quite honestly, I forgot the cornbread.

Our game master sat across the room from the toaster, tending his favorite games on the Internet. As he played bits and pieces of the cornbread flaked off. If the toaster had been standing they would have landed safely on the tray in the bottom of the toaster. Instead, the crumbs fell on the toaster elements. The elements kept glowing. The crumbs toasted. They blackened. They burned. A flame appeared. It spread through the toaster. The smoke did not just waft to the ceiling, it rolled.
Finally, when the kitchen had a low cloud of smoke, our in-house fireman smelled fire, abruptly quit his game and moseyed over to the kitchen. He unplugged the toaster and moved it and its flames away from the wooden bottom of the cabinet.
“Did you have something in the toaster?” he called.

That’s when I remembered. With chagrin, I hurried back to the kitchen.
I could see the smoke at the end of the hallway where we had the smoke alarm, but I did not hear anything.

In the kitchen, the unplugged toaster still flickered on the tiled counter. We shoved it into the stainless steel sink. The flames still licked away along the lines of the elements. It couldn’t burn anything else. However, I wanted toasted cornbread, not toasted marshmallows. I turned on the faucet, grabbed the nozzle of the sink sprayer and extinguished the rest of the fire.

“I didn’t hear the smoke alarm at all,” I said, waving the tendrils of gray smoke from my face. Retrieving the smoke alarm from the hallway, I pushed the tester button. It squawked good and loud. It just did not sense the smoke in the kitchen.
We surveyed the destruction we had wrought upon ourselves. Not too bad, actually. With ceramic tile counter tops, walls and floors and a stainless steel sink, the fire had only threatened the wooden cupboards.

“Well, that toaster is toast,” my husband said as he picked it up and carried it over to the garbage can.
I left the smoke alarm on the counter. Eventually I judged it had failed miserably at its one assigned task. It would no longer serve us.

So, yes, I finally know what I want/need for Christmas.

I mentioned it to my daughter. She asked if I wanted her extra toaster – the one I found at a thrift store. It’s a Cinderella toaster. Each piece of toasted bread is stamped with the outline of the lost slipper. When it pops up the toaster plays waltz music. Perfect. A bit of music to make my day.

Now if I could just find a smoke alarm to accompany it.

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk.” Email her at