a broken dryer: counting the cost

I broke the dryer.

I was throwing wet, heavy clothes from the washer sideways into the dryer.  Threw in the dryer sheet, closed the door with my hip.  I turned the settings and reached to twist the start dial.  But the start dial came off of it’s post.  This has happened before, so I just jammed it back on, lining up the pieces like a key in a lock, and tried again.  This time, however, I pushed the post back into the cavity of the dryer dashboard.  Now, I could tell you about my unbelievable finger and hand strength, and how my Wonder Woman capabilities are just too much for normal household appliances, but the truth is more mundane and ordinary.  The truth is that our dryer is cheap.  The truth is that this little post, the one that needs to be twisted in order to start the dryer, was now stuck behind the panel of the dryer leaving me no way to start the dryer.  With a full load of wet clothes, in a house that creates more laundry than I thought possible, I broke the dryer.

This dryer is not old.  Our washer machine is older.  Many, many things in our house are older.  Grant is older than this dryer.  But the plastic around the slot that holds the lint trap is cracked, and when I open the dryer door to take out a fresh load there is often a snagged and tangled stray string caught up in knots, pulling at the clothes that have spun around inside.  The paint has peeled off the back of the tumbler, revealing patches of stainless steel like countries on a map.  And now, I can’t even turn it on.  It’s just plain ol’ broken.

In my frustration, I tromp around the house muttering things like “they just don’t make things like they used to” as if I know what I’m talking about.  And I do, a little.  But my age betrays that most things made in my time are like that dryer: fast, cheap, replaceable.   Not like some things:  we only just replaced our beloved avocado green oven and stovetop, made in 1968, last year.  It was over 40 years old.  40 years of roasted chickens, loaves of bread, pots of stew.  40 years, and only now did it show signs of weakness.  Most likely, it still had life in it, too.  It probably only took a bit of tinkering, a phone call to order a new part or two, and it may have gone on to cook more meals.  But it was more than our working knowledge, more than our impatient and hungry family had to give.  The new one is sleek, a black shiny flat cooktop, that looks remarkably out of place in our mishmash old-meets-new kitchen.

The dryer is broken, and it’s only a matter of time before the newer oven becomes the obstinate teenager, refusing to do what’s being asked simply on premise.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s about counting the cost.  I wonder if it’s about waiting, and saving, and working hard to make more of it.  That dryer that won’t turn on?  It was the cheapest dryer our money could buy, and with three kids and a mortgage, that was about the size of it for us.  But what’s the cost in the long run, if the dryer is just another broken plastic piece that needs to be replaced a few years down the road?  How do you know when to throw all your chips together, to make the hard choice to find that things that are worth it?

Being old is no sign of worth, though, and all things hard are not always good and right just for being hard.  All things that come cheap and easy aren’t always bad for being so.   But sometimes, maybe just sometimes, it’s better to count the cost.  To save up, to plot it out, to work hard with that extra dose of patience, that extra push because it’s worth it.

The things that are important to me, the things that shape my heart, mold my life – they are the hard things.  Things like marriage, like parenting.  Like faith, and love.  There are no cheap replacements.  These relationships are not semi-disposable, ready to be traded in for the next newer cheaper model at the moment their age shows through.  There is a cost, there is always a cost.

Maybe, instead of buying the cheap quick-fix dryer that is breaking down in front of my eyes, we could work towards the one that is a heftier model.  One that costs twice as much, but may last far longer.  One that is reliable, that can handle the work of this five person family.  Maybe, it’s worth it to count the cost.

I sent Mark down to the basement to take a look at the dryer.  Really, it was just to show him the simple reality that we were in a desperate situation, again, and to welcome him into my frustration.  I had been standing at the sink, with the sound of running water and clanking silverware muting the sounds of his tinkering, so I was unaware that he was even at work down there.  Before I knew it, though, he had the back panel off of the dryer, fishing wires around and reattaching the disconnected ones, replacing the post onto the start dial.  After a few minutes, when he joined me at the kitchen sink, I didn’t expect to see him smiling proudly.

Turns out, I didn’t break the dryer after all.

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