Almost a Christmas to Remember

At this joyous season, my thoughts turn to family, friends, and death. Okay, near death, very near death.

True story. Many years ago just before Christmas, I want to say it was 1991 our dishwasher quit. At that time, a quitting dishwasher was a tragedy. We were in the middle of what we identified to our children as the “austerity budget” years. Years in which we experienced the follow on events from a bad career choice I had made. A repairman was out of the question. But good news, a new dishwasher was ready and waiting for us on the moon; we just had to get there. Of course washing dishes by hand was always an option, The Lovely Marianne and I have hand washed our share, but I’ve always loved my dishwashers. It’s my favorite appliance, I take great pleasure in loading in dirty dishes, turning the thing on and removing clean dishes a short while later. I know, I’m easily pleased, but it’s the little things in life that are most satisfying.

I was, therefore, loathe to give it up. So it was that I partly dismantled the dishwasher to investigate the cause of its demise. Eventually, I determined the problem was a defective switch. In those pre-internet days, I had to phone around to find an appliance parts store with the proper part. Having done so, I left work early on Christmas Eve to retrieve the part. My goal was to repair the dishwasher before Christmas. I arrived home at noon or so and set to work. Our son James, ten at the time, was watching me in the kitchen and it was about to get interesting.

I had the panel off and had removed the old switch.

This was the old switch. At least, I remember it looking like this.

I grabbed the switch by the block and extracted it. So far so good. I took the new switch which looked like this

This was the new switch. Well, not exactly, but it did have the metal prongs arranged similarly.

Looks different, I know, but I was assured that it would fit. At this point James said, “Dad, do you need to flip the circuit breaker?”

Now, I don’t know where a ten year old gets that from. James was and is uncommonly bright so his question didn’t surprise me. But he was ten and I was the wise experienced adult. I haven’t the foggiest what went through my mind, but whatever it was convinced me that I, the grown up in the room, knew best and so, “No,” I said. “We don’t need to do that.”

Picture the scene then. It’s Christmas Eve. The Lovely Marianne is bustling in the kitchen preparing for the day stepping around me as I sat on the floor in front of the dishwasher. Diana (6) , Catherine (4), and Andrew (3) were running through the house chasing each other and making excited Christmas racket. In the midst of this holiday jollity I extended my hand to install the new switch.

Bang! Sparks everywhere! I dropped the switch and snatched my hand back. A cloud of choking smoke hung in the air. James yelped. “What happened?” he and TLM asked in unison.

I retrieved the new switch from where I’d dropped it. Look at the picture of the new switch again. See that bottom prong on the left side? Half that prong had melted.

Yes, when I went to install the switch it had arced with a live wire which was live because I hadn’t listened to James. “I think I’d better flip the breaker,” I said.

That was a close one. Fortunately, I had gripped the switch with only two fingers on the insulated middle part. Any contact with metal on that switch and BAM! there I would have been dead on the floor.

Surrounded by my family.

On Christmas Eve.

That would have been a Christmas to Remember.

As it was, I followed James’ advice, flipped the breaker and replaced the switch. Restored to operation, that dishwasher served us loyally for another ten years and that Christmas Eve faded into the background of other uneventful celebrations. Well, except for James who trots it out now and then as a reminder that I should always listen to his advice.

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