The Universal Notebook: Falling $%# over a teakettle

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Something told me that I was going to come to regret spending an entire day of what’s left of my life looking for a yellow teakettle, but I just couldn’t help myself. It doesn’t happen very often anymore, but when I was a kid I used to get these fixations on things I just had to have and I couldn’t think of anything else until I had them in my grubby little hands. I suffered these possessive obsessions over everything from puppies to pool tables, leather jackets to motor scooters. Recently I suffered a materialistic relapse and just had to have a yellow teakettle.

This mania didn’t come straight out of the blue of course. As far as I recall, Carolyn and I have only owned two teakettles in our 29 years of marriage – one painted black on white to resemble a cowhide, the other a lovely sky blue enamel kettle with a fetching two-note whistle. This spring, I noticed that the pale blue kettle had begun to rust inside. And the black handle is rather blistered from trying to boil water on the gas grill during a power outage. Time for teakettle No. 3.

I began my systematic search for the perfect replacement kettle in Kittery, a brief outlet detour on the way back from a preseason lacrosse game in New Hampshire. Nothing caught my fancy, and anyway, I prefer to buy local.

The right teakettle is an essential part of everyday life, as I’m sure you agree. Hot water is what life is all about after all. The very first thing I do when I awake each morning is put the kettle on to boil water for Carolyn’s coffee and tea for Tess and me. What is on point is that a good cup of tea is one of life’s great pleasures, a soothing source of warmth and solace. Add a spoonful of honey and life is sweet.

I am of the school of thought that a teakettle needs to be fun as well as functional. It should be bright and cheery, a lighthearted utensil amidst all the sober and serious pots and pans blackened with age. So a week or so ago, I made the rounds from the Maine Mall to the Old Port looking for an upbeat kettle. I had in the back of my mind that a yellow teakettle would be just the thing.

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a good teakettle, but what I soon discovered is that somewhere in the recent past Americans forgot how to design a simple kettle. No matter that they all seem to be made in Thailand now, they just don’t work properly. To begin with, you should be able to pour hot water with one hand. Too many newfangled kettles require one hand to pour and another to open the cover over the spout. A proper teakettle has a spout cover that opens with the press of a thumb and closes automatically, period, end of story.

The closest thing I found to what I was looking for – color-wise – was a Le Creuset teakettle, but, after a cell phone consultation with Carolyn, I was persuaded that $69 was just too much to pay for a kettle. Then too, the handsome yellow French kettle requires two hands to pour, and the more I handled it the more convinced I became that the riveted handle was too flimsy.

In terms of single-handed functionality, the hands-down winner was a more affordable $34 Copco Impress Teakettle I found in the dim recesses of Sears. Just squeeze the handle and the spout opens and closes. Perfect! But, alas, it was available only in red, and no one wants a red teakettle for heaven’s sake. Red is the color of menace.

Finally, upon the advice of a Copco rep, I ordered the Copco Impress online from in just the shade of yellow I had been dreaming of for weeks. Our new teakettle arrived yesterday and, yes, it’s a thing of beauty. Trouble is, it doesn’t whistle as advertised, it hisses. I have lodged a formal protest with Copco, but, in the meantime, every time I make a cup of tea I am reminded what a fool I am. I had forgotten the letdown that inevitably follows when you get exactly what you thought you wanted.


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beem-edgar-op.jpgThe Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal look at the world around him. “Backyard Maine,” a collection of his columns, is available now at local bookstores.