Friday, March 29, 2013

Determination, persistence, Tennessee Williams, and a stuck kitchen drawer

Dusty, cramped, and with an unutterable sense of triumph, I crawled out of the cabinet.

Rick said it couldn’t be done. And when it comes to questions of mechanical engineering – or really anything related to spatial relations, hardware, or infrastructure – I defer to his expertise. That’s the kind of stuff he knows. And I don’t.

But in this case, I couldn’t accept the idea that a drawer in our kitchen could never be opened again. 

Four days earlier, I’d unloaded the dishwasher and filled that particular drawer with its customary inventory of square baking pans, cake pans, loaf pans, and pie plates. Yes, it was fairly full, but not overly stuffed. There was a place for everything and it all fit together efficiently, if a little bit snugly.

At least that’s what I thought until I closed the drawer. Somehow, and I still can’t explain quite how, when the drawer closed, it knocked a cake pan off-kilter. The edge of the cake pan wedged against the inside of the drawer, making the drawer impossible to open more than a fraction of an inch.

And it did seem to be an intractable problem. Even though we could still open the drawer a fraction of an inch,  just wide enough to fit in an implement like a spatula or a butter knife, there was no place for any of the items to go. Nothing would budge. Especially not the item wedged against the edge of the drawer, keeping it from opening.

The situation bothered me in part because it made me feel like a character in a Tennessee Williams play. Kitchen Drawer Forever Stuck Shut, no matter how often family members yank at it and curse it, its contents forever denied to even the owners of those very same contents. Along with the paper lantern over the bare lightbulb in Streetcar Named Desire and the fragile figurine in Glass Menagerie, the broken drawer just seemed to be shouting its symbolism. This family has a drawer that won’t open! What do you suppose that might mean about them?

But the drawer also had all my baking pans, and life without baking just isn’t an option in our household.

I couldn’t take no for an answer. Opening the drawer a fraction and sticking things in – a butter knife, a frosting spatula, a metal skewer, a screwdriver, a wire coat hanger, a pie server – didn’t help at all. Above the drawer was immovable countertop, and the front panel of the drawer didn’t have any screws to loosen or any way of being removed either.

For four days, whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I contemplated the drawer. Or stuck things into it, or rattled it. But to no avail. Rick’s prediction seemed accurate; nothing was going to change the situation.

Finally it dawned on me. The front of the drawer didn’t open enough to be of any help, but if the front was moving, then by an obvious law of physics, the back of the drawer had to be moving as well, didn’t it?

I emptied out all the pots and pans from the cabinet underneath the drawer and crawled into it. Then I told my daughter to pull the drawer forward as far as she could, and I found I could just barely slip my fingers up through the back of the drawer. Just enough to inch the pans I could touch a tiny bit farther back.

Which meant Holly could then inch the items at the front of the drawer a tiny bit farther back as well. Not enough to nudge the offending pan loose, but enough that we could then open the drawer a tiny bit farther. And reaching from the back again, I could lift the items farthest back in the drawer over the top and down into the cabinet.

In less than a minute, the job was done. The drawer was open, the pesky cake pan freed. I crawled out of the cabinet and crowed immodestly.

“This is the most proud I have ever been of myself!” I said.

“Really? More than when you got into college?” Holly asked.

Yes, because my college wasn’t that hard to get into, I thought to myself, but didn’t want to set a bad example by making my kids think that cake pans were more important than college, so I backpedaled a little. “Well, getting into college is important too, but this is amazing!” I said. “I actually fixed something!”

Tennessee Williams and heavy-handed symbolism aside, that was the bottom line for me. I’d persisted. I’d figured out that the key was to forget about the parts that don’t move; find the moving part and figure out how to leverage it. And I’d followed a gut feeling that despite what more mechanically inclined people told me, somehow there was a way to fix this.

I’d like to think that even in my mid-40’s, I’m not too old to draw life lessons when they hit me over the head. Don’t give up. Believe in your convictions. Think outside the box. Don’t put all your faith in naysayers. Try and try again.

Okay, maybe the messages I’m taking from it are a little heavy-handed after all. Maybe the symbolism of the story is too obvious even for Tennessee Williams. But it was worth it to me. I surprised myself with a rare moment of mechanical aptitude. It was more exciting than getting into college. And now I think I’ll bake a cake to celebrate. Using every single one of my (only slightly dented) cake pans.

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