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first person

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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

I have nine Easy Bake Ovens.

Although to be absolutely accurate, I really only have seven of the real ovens. I own six originals (yellow and turquoise), one 1970′s floral, one Sindy (with a pot of macaroni that cooks and a teakettle that whistles when you put each pot on a special burner), one 1960′s Suzy Homemaker and one vintage Danish toy modern kitchenette.

They are lined up in my studio one after the other on a shelf. I look at them often and daydream about baking little cakes.

I was not the sort of child who lacked toys. Every Christmas I received a doll that I adored and many other beloved gifts, all wrapped and sitting on my own special chair near the Christmas tree. But I never did get an Easy Bake Oven.

Instead, my mother always bought me a large collection of Easy Bake Oven cake mixes and cake pans and I used our regular oven to bake them in. My favourite cake mix was Spice Cake with vanilla frosting. Teeny tiny. So delicious.

My girlfriend owned an Easy Bake Oven and I have distinct memories of baking a frozen French fry with her. Secretly. Her parents never knew that we swiped one (or was it two?) McCain French fries from her basement freezer. That was one delicious French fry. I still feel a wave of guilt and pleasure mixed up in that secretive episode in my life. I never knew that an Easy Bake Oven could be so dangerous.

My mother was not a baker. She was, on the other hand, a fantastic cook. She just never took to the fastidiousness and careful measuring that occurred with baking, although those things came naturally to me. Baking made her nervous. She baked shortbreads once a year at Christmas. It was a big deal in our house; the block of butter sitting on the counter, the flour, the multicoloured sprinkles in a little bowl, the cookie cutters, the flustered mother.

I was never allowed to help and I would dance around our mid-century modern living room waiting, waiting until the cookies came out of the oven. They were melt in your mouth delicious. And there were never enough.

My nanny once came to our house for a week to babysit while my parents jetted off to Acapulco for a romantic getaway. One day when I came home from school she had freshly baked peanut butter cookies waiting for me on a plate. Each one had little fork marks criss-crossed one way and then the other. They were heavenly. She used the General Foods Cookbook that my mother had gotten as a gift from my dad’s work.

When my kids were young I asked my mom for the recipe and she gave it to me over the phone. I added chocolate chips and it became my son’s favourite cookie (which I still bake for him when he comes home to visit). I inherited that cookbook when my parents moved into their retirement home and it sits near the Easy Bake Ovens on a shelf in my studio.

Lately, I have been thinking about that boxed set of cake mixes that I would get every Christmas instead of an Easy Bake Oven. The box was large and flat and each mix was arranged like a fan, one over top the other, in a semi circle. All enclosed in shrink wrap.

Perhaps my mother felt I would get more playing power out of the set of mixes instead of the Easy Bake Oven. Perhaps she couldn’t afford both. Perhaps it was a choice between an Easy Bake Oven or a doll for Christmas.

When I told this story to some girlfriends of mine I found out that they had their own Easy Bake Oven stories. Some loved it. But quite a few got the Easy Bake Oven and the three paper packages of “mix” that came in the box with the oven; chocolate cake, vanilla cake and cookies and then didn’t get any more cake mixes. One of my friends waited forever for her parents to get a 100 watt bulb. Their mothers (if they were lucky) would just give them a bit of leftover cake batter that they had made to pop into their Easy Bake Oven. And that made them wistful and a little sad.

They wanted the big box of multiple cake mixes that I got. If only we could go back in time and I could share my box of mixes with my friends and use their Easy Bake Ovens. We could make sure that 100 watt bulbs were plentiful. What a lovely time we would have had.

My husband knew how much I wanted an Easy Bake Oven and one day he came home from a morning of yard sales with a large vintage box for me. He placed it down on our porch with a big smile on his face. There was a girl in a yellow dress on the cover of the box and she was photographed playing with a yellow Easy Bake Oven.

The first Easy Bake Oven. I opened the box and there it was, perfect. I buffed and polished it and set it proudly on my studio shelf. Others followed. And now I have nine toy ovens. Ten counting a little metal one that is the oldest of them all. It has a little oven that you place a lit candle into to bake your little cakes (the perfect fire toy for little girls).

I cherish all of them. They remind me of childhood and Christmas and the Sears Wishbook and sweetness. Mostly they remind me of hope. And to be truthful, a little sadness. And that is okay, too.

Michèle Karch-Ackerman lives in Buckhorn, Ont.