Ronald Howes, Sr., the inventor of the Easy Bake Oven, died just the other day. He was 83 years old.
Truth be told, I’ve cursed out Mr. Howes on occasion because I don’t find much that is easy about the Easy Bake Oven. I never had one growing up – for whatever reason, our family bucked the easy baking trend he foisted upon America back in the early 1960s – a trend that has lasted for more than 40 years.
But this Christmas, the Easy Bake Oven gleamed brightly as an object of desire for my girls; it was one of the few things on their wish list (alongside a dream catcher and candy necklace); and the sale price at Target before Christmas made it an imperative purchase.
So even though my girls are five-years-old (a tad young for unsupervised baking) “Santa” felt compelled to bring them an Easy-Bake Oven. Thus, we became one of the 20 million families that can claim ownership of an Easy Bake Oven.
The first hint of trouble came when we opened the box on Christmas day, a day that has been set aside for family and celebration, not for shopping. That is when we discovered that the oven did not come with a heat source – i.e. no lightbulb included.
Channeling Gertrude Stein
Now there are philosophers that will say that a lightbulb is a lightbulb is a lightbulb, but when the lightbulb for the Easy Bake Oven is missing and the oven won’t work without it, then the lightbulb is an issue.
In our case, the missing lightbulb was an issue we skirted until December 26th, when two hopeful little girls REALLY wanted to bake a cake. So “Santa” went out and got some bulbs for the oven and the easy baking commenced.
A Darkening Mood
Only it was not so easy. The mixes seemed dry and crumbly. One mix, the S’Mores packet, required the baker to pat out graham cracker squares to put into the round cake pan. I didn’t understand this concept – patting out square items to place in the Easy Bake Oven’s very round pan.
But we made S’More squares out of that dry, crumbly batter. And we shoved those little pans into the Easy Bake Oven, one pan at a time. And we attempted to commence the baking process.
Instructions said you had to make sure to place the pan in such a way that the oven doors were closed. But lacking a window to look into the oven, I discovered it was difficult to tell exactly where the pan needed to be to get maximum exposure to the lightbulb. So we shoved the pan in and peered in through the sides only to realize we’d shoved the damn pan right out the other side.
So we had to pull out the pan and try it all over again. Frankly, it was an irritating process and I wanted very much to move on with my day. But two little girls eager to eat some Easy Baked goods made it impossible for me to quit the Easy Bake process.
None of this seemed easy to me. The process was so challenging that I began to wonder how the hell this product had lasted for 40 years on the market. How could something so irritating be so enduring?
An Enduring Legacy
I started asking around. What I found was remarkable. All the women I knew who had an Easy Bake Oven as a child loved it. They LOVED it.
That’s what my girls were telling me as we baked. They loved it. They really really loved it. And I realized that even though there was nothing easy about the Easy Bake Oven, it was something little girls loved doing. And thus, though I loathe the process, I know there will be many Easy Bake Oven activities in my future.
And I have Ronald Howes, Sr. to thank for that. He’s a man who gave millions of little girls a toy they loved to play with. And that is truly a wonderful legacy – to create a toy that brings happiness and the promise of something sweet to the children who play with it. So even though I’m not a true fan, I will be using Ronald Howes’s invention to create memories with my girls that will endure long after our Easy-Bake Oven experiences come to an end.