And to dust it shall return

November 12, 2006|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN REPORTER

While I vacuum some scary corner of my son's room, a strip of rubber molding peels off the nozzle attached to the household's antique Electrolux. Hooray! Finally, a legitimate excuse for ditching this infuriating contraption for something new. How could this vital attachment possibly be replaced?

Until now, there has been no really good reason for sacking the 1960 Model G vac. In its prime, the Electrolux was an extravagance that must have dazzled homemakers with its aqua blue canister, art deco lettering and unmatched ability to dispatch dust bunnies.

But with this domestic masterpiece, Electrolux engineers planned no obsolescence. For its 46 years, the machine had not lost its ability to suction cobwebs and dust. Several years ago, when it went to the Electrolux shop to be reconditioned, the technician was hardly surprised that it was still chugging along.

So far, the rebuilt engine hasn't faltered and when the bag is full, the vacuum cleaner's rear still flaps open with a loud "whomp!" Post-makeover, the machine's power cord rewinds smartly with a tug or two.

Lately, though, the Electrolux has been slowing down. Sometimes, a big clump of something gets stuck en route from the nozzle to the hose or the suction just seems to give out.

The Electrolux has also developed loose joints. Its various interlocking tubes clang and bang and often disconnect, frustrating its operator. And like a stubborn dog, it doesn't always follow when I give it a yank.

My mother gave me the Electrolux a few decades ago. She got it from a New Jersey man who specialized in refurbishing old vacuum cleaners. Only my mother would befriend a guy who refurbishes vacuums for a hobby, I remember thinking.

But that guy probably saw something in the Electrolux that is missing in so many other aspects of life: durability. Since the introduction of the Model G, wars have been fought, generations of babies have been born, and millions of appliances have bitten the dust.

Women's roles have also changed as my trusty Electrolux stuck to its appointed tasks. The Model G made its debut three years before The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan did.

I imagine the lucky lady who first used this machine. She's a housewife who has yet to articulate the resentment she feels for her lot in life. She smokes a lot while pushing the Electrolux around her suburban home. The family dog cowers in a corner. The kids watch TV. Dinner's up for grabs. Dad's taking a later train than he had thought - again.

The marriage falls apart. The kids remain in therapy until this day. None of the daughters has elected to stay at home. In the meantime, though, the little Electrolux that could has consumed enough dust to produce another big bang.

When the nozzle disintegrates in my son's room, I wonder if the Electrolux would make an attractive lawn ornament. Then, I decide to give it one more chance after finding an inspiring Web site that celebrates Electrolux vacuums as a triumph of industrial design.

I take the machine back to the store, where several antique Electrolux canisters on display pay tribute to 20th century ingenuity.

After a consultation, I decide to buy a new hose. Using recycled parts, the technician also repairs the nozzle. Then I throw in a box of 24 vacuum bags. If my Electrolux ever does expire, the leftover bags will fit in a new model.

New vacuum cleaners can be expensive. The cheapest Electrolux canister model costs about $900. But it will last at least 40 years, the repairman says.

Who am I to doubt him?

stephanie.shapiro@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts of Real Life essays, go to baltimoresun.com/reallife.

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