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Friday Slide Show: The Grinder Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

16 April 2021

Tucked into a corner of the kitchen, this ancient coffee grinder waits patiently to be of use again one day. And, on occasion, we put it to work. Or, more accurately, it puts us to work.

We fill the iron bowl with beans and grab the wooden knob and crank and crank and crank, telling ourselves it will only take longer if we peek at the grinds.

Long ago it was a treasured kitchen appliance in our great grandmother's kitchen. We don't recall how it found its way to ours. Through our grandmother's kitchen, no doubt. Until no one wanted it. Because no one could use it. Coffee was bought already ground.

We weren't big coffee nuts but we were the one in the family who preferred espresso. And so the grinder was bequeathed to us.

It is instructive, one used to say, to compare kitchens. A year ago, we attended the wedding of a young couple that this year bought a house. They are trying to get it into a livable state and the kitchen is playing games with them.

To start with, the former owners informed them that the dishwasher no longer works. When they took possession, the gas company red-tagged their old stove, refusing to light the pilot. Whatever part broke can't be replaced. And then the refrigerator gave out just as they tried to retrieve a cold one after replacing floor boards all day.

But wait there's more. An outlet in the kitchen started smoking one day when they tried to use an electrical appliance.

So that put the kabosh on the toaster oven, microwave, rice cooker, slow cooker and all the other appliances one can't live without these days.

At last report, they're survival depends on a mini-fridge and a camp stove until they can replace the major appliances. Which is not easy in the pandemic.

Nonna, as we called her, was the dishwasher in her kitchen. There was an ice box with regularly ice deliveries. The ice melted, but that's the worst of it. The stove had no parts to replace. And she was the engine that powered the coffee grinder. No electricity required.

It was good exercise. No need for gym membership, yoga class, a Peloton or even just an Apple Watch. Life itself was the treadmill.

We think of that when we do our chores, cleaning the tile floor in the kitchen, wiping down the old GE stove, washing the dishes by hand.

And when we work in the yard, pulling weeds, pruning bushes and trees, getting after the ivy, using tools that are the same vintage as this grinder (because, once again, nobody wanted them; everybody has a gardener these days), we think of the manual labor it used to take to get through the day.

This grinder, those garden tools, are all perfectly serviceable. Repairable. No updates, no new features, no revisions necessary. That knob on the little drawer of the grinder whose joints are all dovetailed like the main box itself has never come loose. Why should it? It was engineered to stay on.

Ah, the marvels of the 19th century when things worked. And people too.

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