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The "Not-So-Great" Peeler Mystery

This story has a little bit of everything: greed, intrigue, a death in the family, a quirky protagonist …

… a vegetable peeler.

(OK, let’s just say this story has a little bit of some things, and – spoiler alert – intrigue is not one of them.)

Full disclosure, and without sounding boastful, we own two vegetable peelers. I know, I know, it’s a lot to process, especially if you’re someone who really needs that second peeler but just can’t justify it on your budget.

I’m not even sure how we acquired our first peeler. It was something I found innocently sitting among a bunch of other stuff I didn’t know we had as I scanned the kitchen utensil drawer of our first house shortly after we moved in.

As peelers go, it’s nothing special, and it’s old, probably 40 and 60 years old if I had to guess. (Let’s just say it already had a good volume of carrots and potatoes under its belt by the time I discovered it in the mid-1990s.)

For our purposes, it worked OK, but just OK. I mean, it’s not exactly cutting-edge (no pun intended) technology … it’s a basic peeler, used in homes by people like me (the quirky protagonist of the story), restaurant kitchen staff and military folks on KP duty for time immemorial.

Anyway, over the years, I had grown somewhat discontented with our peeler; not enough to take the bull by the horns and buy a new one (frankly, purchasing a new one never even occurred to me since I thought these were items that just showed up at your house and you never questioned their existence), yet its performance just didn’t seem to pass muster, an issue I would bring up time and time again to my beautiful and unbelievably tolerant wife, Joanie. (After a while, I’m sure my complaining became nothing more than white noise to her.)

In short, I felt like this experienced, fully broken-in peeler could and should do a better job at the one thing it was designed for …

… peeling.

But I gutted it out, and after some time with it, came to grips (again, no pun intended) with our less-than-stellar-performing peeler, and together, we made it work (and by “it,” I mean our semi-weekly potato or carrot peeling sessions).

I found a peeling angle and preferred pressure that worked if I remained focused on the job at hand, which is an interesting word (“focus”) to use when describing such a mindless activity, and over the years, I grew accustomated to this peeler.

Soon, I could put up with its weaknesses like, over time, one might put up with a toilet whose handle needs jiggling or, to use a more modern reference, an occasionally skittish internet connection; things that could and maybe should be corrected, but given the day and one’s level of motivation one asks oneself, “Is it really worth the trouble to fix them?”

Fast forward to 2014. (Here’s where the story really heats up.) Late that year, my aunt Geraldine died. A longtime resident of Albuquerque, she moved back to our town in the mid-1980s to be with family after her husband, Uncle Bob, had died suddenly.

Bob and Jerry (interesting, she liked to be called Jerry and spelled it with a J even though her name was Geraldine) had lots of things (artwork, furniture, glassware, jewelry, etc.) but no kids. So, the four Haznaw s (my three siblings and myself) were like surrogate children to them. When Jerry died, it was up to my mom and us to go through her stuff and figure out what to do with it (sell/donate/throw out/repeat).

One day, as we were sorting and packing things, my mom said we (the four of us) should all choose something we liked of Jerry’s and take it home to remember her because she’d like that. At the time, I was in the kitchen, stacking and packing dishes, pots and pans.

After scanning the landscape that was her apartment, I had a thought: I wonder if she has a vegetable peeler. Then, I corrected myself: Of course, she does! Everyone has one because it just shows up in your kitchen when you need it, and you have it forever.

As the others pondered what they’d claim as their own “parting gift,” I immediately went to the utensil drawer and found Jerry’s peeler.

“I’ll take this,” I said proudly, then, just to make sure I wasn’t being greedy or presumptuous, continued with, “that is, if no one else wants it.” Surprisingly, there was no argument over it, and several hours later, I was driving home with a brand new, really old stainless steel vegetable peeler that looked amazingly like the one we already owned.

I couldn’t wait to try it, so that evening, I got some carrots and took to peeling. To my chagrin, Jerry’s peeler was awful; worse than the one we already owned. My exact words to Joanie that evening? “This thing doesn’t peel for shit.” (Just more white noise to her ears, I’m sure.)

Disgusted with the peeler, but also with myself for blowing an opportunity to choose something worthwhile earlier in the day, I threw it back into the utensil drawer and grabbed our “old” old peeler.

That evening, realizing the grass (or in this case, the produce) isn’t always greener with someone else’s peeler, I recommitted to our original model, and it served me well (well, well enough) until this past weekend. Friday, as I prepared some potatoes for peeling, I noticed the original peeler was missing from the utensil drawer. I took everything out of the drawer but didn’t see it. I checked the dishwasher. Nothing. I went through the other kitchen drawers, but it was nowhere to be found.

It was a mystery. After one more “go around” through the drawers, etc., I decided I had to do something I dreaded: I’d have to use Jerry’s peeler on these potatoes. Ugh, I thought, this sucks.

But with no immediate recourse, I did what I had to do: I started peeling. But no matter what I tried, the peeler just didn’t want to peel. (What exactly did I expect, that this 70-year-old peeler had mysteriously gotten sharper or better on its own?)

After a couple minutes of what felt like I was simply beating the potatoes to a slow death, I thought came to me: I’m lefthanded (NOTE: I didn’t have to think about this part; I already know I’m lefthanded; it’s the next part that gave me pause) …

… I wonder if this thing is so old it didn’t even accommodate two-way peeling when it was made.

Without hesitation, I switched hands between the potato and peeler and started – albeit it awkwardly – peeling with my right hand, and voila! It worked! Problem solved.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have some issues with this situation. First, I still want to know what happened to our old, somewhat usable peeler. (I feel like someday, months from now, I’m going to find it in a place where you’d never expect, like in my computer bag or between the couch cushions).

Second, it’s going to take a while for me to learn to peel right-handed; that is, unless I’m finally ready to make a rational, adult decision and pony up the $8 to buy a new one.

But after thinking about it, maybe this is what Jerry would have wanted. Maybe she would have enjoyed seeing me learn to do something in a new way. Or, maybe she just wanted one last laugh at my expense as she watched from the afterlife.

Or maybe she’s just out there thinking, Why in hell didn’t he just take a painting or a couple of wine glasses? That thing doesn’t peel for shit.”

© 2023 David R. Haznaw

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