One of my favourite possessions is my mother’s Sears Maid of Honor kitchen timer. It’s a wheel that rotates on a pedestal. The numbers are in a Delft-like blue along the sides. The brand name is on the top (and includes Roebuck). You turn the wheel on the pedestal to align the time desired to the pointer. It’s fairly heavy for its size because it has a real bell. If you wind it to 60, it will ring long enough that you can’t miss it. I don’t know how old it is, but I would guess it dates from the 1950s.
I love it because of the vintage design and look. In the 1950s, it may have looked ultramodern, but today it looks classic. I love the color of the numbers and hash marks. I love the fluted rim of the top. Mostly, though, I love it because it was my mother’s, because I remember it perched in the front row of our glass-fronted west kitchen cabinet, until she took it out to time a cake or cookies or perhaps while she was making “Daisy’s fudge” for which she was admired among her friends and family.
Lately it is also a reminder of something my mother always told me — that I don’t take care of my things. One day after I moved to The Flamingo, I left my sacred Sears Maid of Honor timer on the kitchen counter, on top of a coffee can, thinking I would put it away in a few minutes. Then I fell sound asleep. Sure enough, a short time later, I was awakened by a loud crash; my young, inquisitive, and strong cat had knocked the timer to the floor, breaking some pieces off the pedestal. I glued the larger pieces I could find back on, and it works, but it’s not the same. My mother would not have allowed it to be broken through laziness.
For awhile, I looked online for information about the Sears Maid of Honor timer, but couldn’t find any. I gave up and didn’t look again for months. Then one day, probably while tired and bored, I looked again through google.com — and found one in excellent condition for sale. So I bought it. It came complete with the box! It’s brown with built-up dirt, but here’s the copy from the top and sides:
Maid of Honor portable household TIMER
60 minute interval
Alarm clock ring
Winds when you set it
Handsome plastic case
Color: White [stamped]
Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Simpsons-Sears Ltd. Made in U.S.A.
ACCURATE TIMING FOR:
* Cooking and baking
* Baby formulae
* Sun lamp treatments
* Home permanents
* Telephone Calls
[Cartoon of woman in bikini under sun lamp]
Long alarm rings to remind you that time’s up. Sturdy, heat-resistant plastic case with rubber feet to protect polished surfaces. Modern design . . . fluted rim for firm grip . . . large numerals and extra wide minute intervals for accurate setting.
To set timer
Turn the top clockwise, passing stationary pointer on base. Rotate beyond 6 to activate the timing mechanism. Then timer may be set at any minute interval. The alarm ring gradually increases as you turn the top. It rings for 2 seconds when turned just past 6 minutes, for 14 seconds when moved to 60 minutes. For the longest possible ring, turn to 60 before setting. Timer may be reset forward or back during operation. Never turn past 0 as this damages the movement.
I have other timers that I use for baking and for waking me after one-hour naps. I even have an electronic digital timer I used at work for timing client-related jobs. While they are as functional as the Sears Maid of Honor timer (both of which are now safely and permanently stowed away), especially the multi-function electronic one, none is as interesting. They look like something you could get anywhere — because you could. The Sears Maid of Honor timer is unique.
At one time it wasn’t, of course. It appears that Sears Maid of Honor was once a popular line of modestly priced (knowing my parents) household gadgets, presumably designed for young brides.
Like most people, my parents had a lot of mass-produced items, some of which I saved because they hold some special memories or reminders of the security of my home. For example, I have a small, iridescence-coated glass, part of a set, that I used for cut roses from the wild rosebush that my dad salvaged from a low-lying area and planted against a trellis. No large, fancy, overbred rose will ever be as beautiful to me as those small, scented, wild blooms floating in the rainbow glass on my dresser. It’s not the object that matters, but the feelings associated with it. It’s good to have both.
Some of this attachment to objects may come from having grown up in a lower income bracket and having parents who grew up poor during the Great Depression. Our financial situation (or at least my dad’s perception of it) seems to have improved by the time I was a teenager, when he was working more hours at the Ford stamping plant to save for retirement. Until then, however, we did not buy a lot of durable goods unless necessary, nor would my dad throw out anything that could be useful. I suppose that’s part of why my mother used the same old Sears Maid of Honor timer for the duration of her married life (and life).
I sometimes wonder if today’s kids will feel the same way about the things they grew up with. Some women may feel an attachment to a favourite doll or stuffed animal, while men may hang onto and even add to their Hot Wheels collections. But do affluent kids who have so much love their things? It’s hard for me to imagine a lifelong emotional attachment to a mass-produced plastic toy or a modern kitchen timer. Will it someday look vintage? Will it evoke memories of a mother laboring for hours over fudge she wants to be perfect because it’s the one thing for which she is renowned in her small circle, for which she has received countless compliments and comments like, “Mine never turns out as well as yours, Daisy!”?
A couple of weeks ago, I was at the annual Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. There’s a booth featuring carved wooden frogs and other toys. The frogs have ridged backs and come with a wooden stick. When you run the stick down the ridges, it produces frog-like croaking. The larger the frog, the deeper the croak. They’re charming toys — the kind I see as a precious keepsake in 20 or 30 years. I noticed the little boy next to me found them uninteresting — probably a child used to electronic beeps and flashing lights. His father, however, was sampling the sounds of all the frog sizes nearly obsessively and desperately trying to interest the boy in them. When I turned to look at him, I was surprised to find he was a young man — not the 40-something like myself I expected. He was enchanted with the frogs and hoping his son would be, too.
Twenty years from now, will the son remember that trip to the Christkindlmarket? Will he remember the brisk air, the flushed faces, the buzz of the crowd, the booths with their handmade wares, and the quaint croaking frogs?
I do hope so.