I will present the moral of this story first: Always plug in a secondhand freezer to make sure it works before you clean it!

Recently my wife and I had a new baby. Before the baby was born, we took inventory of all the things that needed to be done around the house to prepare for his arrival. There was the customary going through the whole house and throwing out all the stuff we didn't need anymore, getting the baby's room ready, and accumulating all the requisite new baby accoutrements (and assembling them, an area which sadly is not my forte).

Even though there were a whole bunch of things we didn't need anymore, there were a lot of things we figured we did need. One was a freezer. We had planned to make a lot of casseroles and lasagnas and the like and freeze them so we wouldn't have to do as much cooking when the baby came.

During the course of a haircut, my wife mentioned this requirement to her stylist. What luck! He had one to sell us! For fifty dollars he would bring it over in his pickup. Did it work? Why, it was working right now! Why was he selling it? It was his mother's, and she didn't need it anymore!

On a rainy Sunday afternoon soon after he brought it over and dropped it off. We hadn't made this arrangement very well, though, because we weren't home, and so he left it underneath our deck at the back of our house, where it was at least somewhat sheltered. To our horror, the color of it was harvest gold. We had forgotten to ask about its color. My next door neighbor helped me carry it inside and down to our basement.

It was really quite hideous. It was very dirty. Some fairly sticky brown substance was spattered all over it, and it smelled like old fish or old milk.

It seemed obvious that more than anything, the freezer needed to be cleaned. I filled a bucket with some bleach and water and wiped the outside and inside until it gleamed. I noticed, in the process of cleaning it, that there was a panel on the side. I found a screwdriver and removed the cover. Inside this compartment, which contained all the freezer's mysterious electrical inner workings, I found the key to the lid of the freezer, which was good, but I also found a lot of rather greasy dust (many years' accumulation), mouse droppings, seed husks, some bugs which had long expired, and what resembled dryer lint.

I got our vacuum cleaner and used the crevice attachment to suck out all the nooks and crannies of this compartment first. Then I set to work on the dryer lint. It was a little more tenacious, and the vacuum only sucked it up slowly. Gradually I saw what looked like old twigs underneath it. By this time I had to use the crevice attachment to scrape the dryer lint while it was being sucked up.

Presently it became clear what was the twigs were -- the arms and legs of a dried out mouse carcass! The dead mouse was firmly stuck to the bottom of the compartment. I scraped it up with a paint stirring stick and threw it in the garbage.

Now, I have to say, that at this point I felt like it had been a bit of an event to clean the freezer. It had taken a few hours, and all the dead animals in it had begun to make me feel a little queasy. But I replaced the cover of the panel and plugged the freezer in and turned in for the night, with visions of buying six cartons of ice cream at a time, and whole sides of beef, and boxes and boxes of Fudgsicles and having a place to keep them cold.

The next morning I was in too much of a hurry to check the freezer. I rushed off to work, and told the story of my macabre discovery in cleaning out the freezer to my co-workers. A few asked why I didn't make sure the freezer worked first before going to all the trouble of cleaning it out. And one explained to me something about how refrigerant in older freezers -- particularly those of the harvest gold era -- tends to be rather dainty and doesn't easily tolerate the rigors of being knocked around and jostled in transportation for some reason. But I didn't pay too much attention to him.

When I got home, my wife told me that the freezer was still warm -- warmer inside than out, as a matter of fact. I knew I'd made sure to turn the freezer on when I plugged it in, so I checked to make sure I had set the dial to the coldest setting. I made an adjustment and left the freezer running. Two days later, the freezer was still warm.

Which brings me back to what I learned from this, and it's worth repeating: Always plug in a secondhand freezer to make sure it works before you clean it.

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