Our toaster gave up the ghost this past week, and on Saturday we threw it out. Then T. and I watched The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars--it seemed fitting, somehow.
"But what if the toaster feels sad?" T. asked me after the movie was over. I thought about the toaster, languishing at the bottom of our green garbage bin in the garage. I had cursed the toaster several times last week when it burned waffle after waffle, and even set off the fire alarm one weekday morning.
"I don't think it will be sad," I reassured T. "It's a toaster."
"Maybe it's not one of those talking toasters," T. said. "You know, the ones with feelings, like in the movie."
"I think it's just a regular toaster," I told her. Then, I'm not sure why, but I added: "I made sure we didn't buy a talking one with feelings."
T. seemed satisfied with this, and went off to play. Later that afternoon when I mentioned to Scott that we'd need to shop for a toaster, T. sprang to attention:
"Mama," T. said. "This time, can we buy one of those talking toasters with feelings?"
When I was little I think I really believed everything had feelings, and hopes, and dreams. I must have tread so carefully around in my world, always worried I'd harm something--someone; some tiny creature I could barely see, or maybe I would inadvertently mistreat a toy and hurt its feelings, or forget to play with a doll and she would sit, in the dark of the closet, her little plastic doll heart snapping in two like a piece of hard candy. I loved books like Corduroy, and The Velveteen Rabbit, of course, and anything that had to do with toys and dolls and stuffed animals coming alive. Surely, I thought, if I could love something enough, it would be alive--it just had to work that way! There's an innocent logic to it, after all, built from a child's faith in the unswaying, monumental, life-igniting, power of love.
But then, of course, as with so much of the magic in childhood, that same innocent logic ends up replaced with the more boring kind: the logic that deals in real things, and the real way the world works--much more practical and cold sometimes and difficult to wrap your mind around. In fact, it seems so mind boggling to me that the simpler logic of childhood--the belief that love can turn even an appliance into a talking being--seems easier to accept in many ways, then the sometimes terrible and very dull logic of the real world.
One time, years ago, L. had it in his mind that we could build a flying car. We only needed to construct a wing, and add some electrical wiring, and then that was it--the car would surely take off! Scott and I spent an afternoon with L., cutting a board to size, and scrounging around for extra wiring. Then we pulled our ancient Subaru Justy to the top of the driveway and mounted the board. Scott sat in the front of the car with L. on his lap and he turned the key.
I'll never forget L.'s face--tight with anxious fear and excitement. For one crazy, moment I almost imagined the little red car taking off and circling up into the sky. But of course, nothing happened. And of course L. was disappointed.
"You shouldn't have egged him on," a relative told me when I recounted the story. "You knew the car wouldn't fly!"
For a moment I felt a surge of guilt, for feeding L.'s fantasies about the flying car; for spending the afternoon helping him construct the things he imagined he would need to make it all work, all the while knowing it wouldn't. Or would it? Maybe a tiny part of me believed again in that impossible, pure logic of the childhood years, when love could start a heart and turn a toaster into a hero, and passion could send a red car careening like a giant drunken bumblebee into the sky.