I am not particularly happy with the way trends are heading when it comes to possessions these days, especially anything digital. To be specific, we really don’t own anything any longer. We either license products or rent them or subscribe to them and those same products often take our information and sell it to advertisers. That got me thinking what these sort of ideas might look like in another context.
Wave of the Future
Pansy was excited. She still felt the glow of the wedding last week, and now she and Walter were moving into their very own home in town and even getting a new stove. She wasn’t going to cook over a fireplace like her mother had for her whole life. This was 1875. These were modern times.
“These here are the finest examples of the latest in stove technology,” the salesman said, sweeping an arm to encompass the room full of shiny ironware. “Now, at this end are all the standard ranges. They’ve been around for a while. They’re good, but nothing special. But I’ve got a feeling that you want something special.”
Pansy nodded and beamed up at Walter, who was looking less certain. “How much does special cost?” Walter asked.
“Worth every penny,” the salesman said, winking at Pansy. “Take this Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator, made by the Ramscackle Brothers right here in town. Wave of the future, this one is. We took design ideas straight out of the twenty-first century to make this. Just think: you’d be 200 years ahead of your neighbors, ma’am.”
“How do you know what they’ll be doing in 200 years?” Walter asked. Pansy frowned at him. He was entirely missing the spirit of the occasion.
“It’s all very scientific, I assure you,” the salesman said. “Nothing good Christians like you would object to, I’m sure.” He hurriedly threw a newspaper over a crystal ball that was sitting on the desk.
Walter seemed resistant, but Pansy wore him down over the next few hours and by the time they left, they were in possession of a brand new Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator. The company promised it would be delivered the next day.
The stove arrived the next morning. Pansy fairly bounced up and down with excitement as the delivery men carried it into the kitchen and set it up. A small boy came in with them, and Pansy assumed he was the son of one of the men until they thanked her and left. The boy stayed behind, crouching by the side of the stove.
“Excuse me, do you belong to one of the men?” Pansy asked him. The boy ignored her.
Pansy ran outside. “Did one of you leave your son behind?” she asked. “There is a young boy in my kitchen.”
“He comes with the stove,” one of the men said. “It was on the papers you signed yesterday.”
“Like a servant, you mean?” Pansy asked.
“No, of course not! He doesn’t do any work. He’ll just sit there. You don’t need to feed him or talk to him. It’s his job, but we’ll switch him out with another kid every so often.”
“Why is he there then?”
“He just comes with the stove,” the man said, looking more uncomfortable. “Well, we gotta go. Bye!”
Pansy went inside and began to investigate the stove. The boy watched her but did not say anything. It was a little creepy but she forced herself to ignore him. After all, this was the modern way.
The next week, Pansy and Walter were sitting on the porch after dinner when a man approached.
“Good evening,” he said. “I wanted to let you know that Thomas and Sons General Store just got in a shipment of molasses. They’re selling it at a discount for anyone who buys more than one gallon.”
“That’s very convenient,” Pansy said. “I just ran out of molasses this morning. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll go get some.”
“That’s strange,” Walter said a minute later. “He just skipped three houses but went to the fourth one. It’s like he knew we were out of molasses.”
“The boy must have told him,” Pansy said. “Still, that’s convenient.”
“Excuse me.” There was another man at the front gate. “If you’ve got a minute, I’d like to tell you about Slatterly’s Woolen Goods. Are you plagued by holes wearing too fast in your undergarments? Slatterly’s patented anti-hole technology means fewer holes in your undergarments, for both the men and the ladies.”
Walter jumped up and there was a screech from the kitchen a moment later. He came back carrying the boy and put him down outside the fence. The boy gave him a reproachful look and flounced away.
The next morning when Pansy went down to make breakfast, the boy was sitting by the stove again and a group of men were prying something off the front of the stove.
“Excuse me!” Pansy cried. “Who are you?”
“Oh, don’t worry, we work for the Ramscackle Brothers,” one of the men said. “You see, the company got a new logo, so we are just switching it out on your stove.”
“How did you get in though?”
“The boy let us in with his key,” the man said. He saw the outrage on Pansy’s face. “Well, of course he needs a key,” he said. “How else is he supposed to come and go when his shift ends.”
“Yes. Very reasonable,” Pansy said. “When will you be done? I need to make breakfast.”
“I’d say we’re about 22% done,” the man said. The others nodded. “Maybe another hour?”
Walter was not too happy to come down and find a bunch of strange men in his kitchen and no breakfast ready. “They’re updating the stove,” Pansy whispered.
“Could you possibly do this later?” Walter asked.
“Well, we could, of course, but we’re halfway through now. In the future, we can schedule updates to your stove at night, so you won’t be disturbed.”
“You think there will be more?”
The man shrugged. “Hard to say.”
Pansy gave a party for her neighbors the next day and the praise and admiration over the stove was enough to make it all worthwhile. She tried to ignore the boy, even when she found him reading through her diary. She laughed off the ads that were baked into the side of each loaf of bread made with the Ramscackle loaf pans they had bought. It felt good to be modern.
Two months after they had bought the stove, a woman came to the door. Pansy showed her into the parlor.
“Thank you for seeing me,” the woman said. “My name is Miss Cuthbert and I am a lawyer for Amalgamated Ranges and Cookery, Inc.”
“A female lawyer!” Pansy said. “How very modern.”
“We are a very modern company,” Miss Cuthbert said gravely. “We have just purchased the Ramscackle Brothers factory. As a customer of Ramscackle Brothers, I wanted to extend to you a special offer. It is known as the Eternal Cookery program. For one dollar a month, we will provide you with a new model of stove every time one comes out. The subscription also comes with ten cubic feet of offsite storage.”
Pansy confusion was evident. “That means you can store food at our warehouse downtown,” Miss Cuthbert said. “There are a million reasons why you should. What if you make too much food and your icebox fills up, as well as your pantry? Are you just going to throw it away? That’s such a waste. And what if your house burns down? You wake up the next day in a tent in the backyard and there’s nothing to eat! Just call us and we’ll deliver the food you stored there. You can do it anytime. Just say ‘I want my stored food’ and the boy will run and tell us.”
This was all too much. Pansy suddenly thought of cooking with her mother over the fireplace when she was growing up on the farm. That had seemed much simpler even if it was a lot harder in some ways. It would be nice to go back to that simpler time.
“Four of your neighbors have already signed up for the Eternal Cookery Program,” Miss Cuthbert said.
“Very well,” Pansy said. “We’ll do it.”