When I was in third grade all I wanted for my birthday was the Deluxe Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven. I dreamed of owning it and cooking largesse meals for David Cassidy while the rest of the Partridge Family waited with Reuben on the bus. I dreamed of having the Emergency! Show actor Randolph Mantooth (who I was desperately in love with) coming over to my house after I feigned a concussion and brunching with me on delights I cooked in the oven.
My parents gave me the oven, and the very first time I used it was in a smoky basement that the four of us sisters were relegated to in the '70s while my parents had their friends and neighbors over to play “bridge,” which would ultimately culminate after many martinis into a Twister fracas of brightly colored neon pants, cigar smoke, frosted hair, and the sound of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in the background blaring.
These parties would go all night, and I later recognized some of them or at least the tenor of them in the movie, The Ice Storm. My parents' minister and his wife would attend the parties, and he usually ended up drunk and telling all who would listen that it was hard to be a square in the '70s, and he thought he should have gone to Berkeley and lived instead of going into the ministry. His wife was always perfectly dressed and looked askew and ashen whenever he would talk this way. And she never took her white gloves off. She constantly wore the gloves even to these raucous parties. Even while playing Twister. Those gloves were the only thing between her and the “twisted” flock her husband seemed so ready to want to identify with.
My sisters and I were told in no uncertain terms to only come out of our sleeping bags in the basement in case of a fire. My mom told me if I started a fire with my Easy Bake Oven then it would probably cost me a Girl Scout cooking badge. So I was very careful not to be the firestarter. My sister Debbie secretly smoked my mom’s Salems at the time, and so she would always sit at the bottom of our basement closest to the back door and blow the smoke on my Mom’s prize orchids, which always seemed a bit limper after these exchanges. Their leaves tinged with the black soot of a 15-year-old rebel in a terrible shag haircut. But her cigs never started a fire either.
Meanwhile, I had become the go-to cook for the yet-to-be estrogen filled sisters, and so I dutifully put on my apron and went to work once we were in the basement. I melted cheese on apple slices, cheese on Triscuits, and chocolate on strawberries. I filled my sisters glasses with ginger ale, and we listened to Sonny and Cher and The Who once my parents were a little drunker and couldn’t hear the music from the basement as well. We played with the Ouija board endlessly, asking it what our lives were going to be like.
My parents, whose marriage was faltering and failing on a daily basis, had these swinging parties every weekend, and so my Easy bake oven constantly was used. My sisters’ appetites were outrageous and knew no bounds because we had not yet really discovered that we needed to starve ourselves to have boys like us. So we ate like heathens and drank ginger ale by the quart.
After a summer of this, I went to school in fifth grade with a round bulbous belly that my best friend Bruce McMullen immediately took notice of. It embarrassed me because he had noticed me, really noticed me for the first time, and he had just softly punched me in my belly and said that was going to show when we put on the horrible, one-piece, red gym suits. He was teasing me, but I knew somewhere deep inside that was the beginning of my undoing, the beginning of being just his best friend, and my undoing as loving boys just because they were funner than girls and would climb trees and curse and smelled musky.
That year he started wearing bellbottom jeans and open shirts like David Cassidy and this little red-headed mean girl named Marla started following us around on the playground and twirling her big fat red ponytail at him while laughing at something he did. Meanwhile, my stomach kept growing because now I was coming home and cooking in secret on my Easy Bake Oven at night while my sisters slept. I would plug the oven in on the outside of my bedroom closet door, and then I would turn it on and watch as the conveyor very slowly pushed through chocolate bars on graham crackers and marshmallows, melting them as they went along. I did this in secret many nights for the whole fifth-grade year. Every time my stomach felt hollow from the ache for my old Brucie, I would fill it with melted chocolate and marshmallow. This pang that I know now starts early and stays with us all our lives. Aching for something or someone other than what we have. And only filling that ache with things that are usually not good for us but at the moment make us feel good.
Wanting to be loved is disastrous for your mid-section, especially if you love your Easy Bake Oven. When my parents divorced at the end of fifth grade, my Easy Bake Oven was so worn out that my Mom put it out into the trash — stained brown from overbaking to fill the pit in my stomach that is still there today.
When my daughter was in third grade, she asked me for an Easy Bake Oven. She really wanted one badly, and I just couldn’t buy it for her. But 10 years late,r when I divorced my husband, the first thing bought for myself was the new and improved Easy Bake Oven. I haven’t opened the box yet, but I take comfort in knowing it sits in my closet with a brand new bulb ready to go. My plan is to teach my son how to use it.