"You're the second person I've met in the last hour who didn't have a stove," the lady said. She was handing out samples of cheese at the grocery store and had noted that this cheese — which was made in Wisconsin, imagine that — had good meltability.

Well, that would be good to know if I could melt anything, but we're stoveless, I explained. Whereupon she noted that her neighbor also is waiting on a stove. They're all floating off a Los Angeles port.

As I noted in this space before, the previous stove's delivery day came and went, because the item had not made its way across the vast expanse of America. Perhaps it had been riding a stagecoach and got waylaid by bandits in Wyoming. Perhaps it had never made it out of China. Perhaps if Nixon hadn't gone to Peking and toasted Zhou Enlai in 1972, serious manufacturing would still be in the States, and I could drive down to the factory and pick one up. You know, just pay someone money and get a product, the way my dad wrote out a check for $82 to the hospital after I was born.

The patient and world-weary professionals at the appliance store found me another stove, and projected a delivery in three weeks. On that day, to my amazement, it arrived.

When the installers removed the 20-year-old range and looked at the hookups, it was like watching the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when they open the chest, and everyone's face melts. Everything about the configuration was a horror, and it all had to be redone.

The installer was gas-certified, but he didn't do electricity. I'd have to call an electrician. (Insert picture of a man with money flying out of his pockets.) The range sat in the living room until the electrician arrived.

The electrician explained that the new code required a GFI on the circuit board. That's a Ground Fault Interrupter, and also a Great Financial Impact. New code: If the oven outlet was 6 feet from a water source, it had to have that GFI.

Why? Ranges have been in kitchens for, oh, I'd say a few years now. Do we have any data on the number of people who grab the range's power cord with one hand while their foot is dunked in the sink? No? Do you have to redo my dishwasher circuit breaker in case I want to wrap myself in aluminum foil, climb inside and grab the heating element?

I'm pretty sure I said these things in a jocular manner, but he moved his body between me and the knife-block on the counter.

Last step was doing something to the oven to change something, if I can get technical for a moment. The electrician came over with a rueful expression: In the process of removing a bolt, it had snapped off, possibly because it was cross-threaded at the factory. OK, stuff happens; is it a big deal?

Well, it prevents the range from ... what's the best word? Working.

I was agog. I was several gogs. I waited five months for a range, it finally gets here and a fortnight before Christmas, it's rendered inert by a single snapped bolt? Do you know what this means? Even if I wanted to act like post-ghost Scrooge and throw open the sash to throw a coin at some urchin and command him to fetch the big goose from the shop down the street, what am I going to cook it in?

Granted, the chance of a perambulating urchin appearing at such a fortuitous moment is as likely as the grocery store being open, let alone having a goose, but still: This is like the last line of the second act of every children's animated special: "Christmas has been canceled!" I'd put my head in the oven, but it wouldn't do any good.

And then, my friends: a Christmas miracle.

The manager for the company swore he would find a replacement part. He had a guy. And so it came to pass on a chilly December day, a man did set forth unto my house, and yea, he said unto me, "Yeah, I can probably get it in, let's take a look."

And I was sore afraid, for mine wife had rent her garments and made lamentations should we be cast among the stoveless. He set to work, and within an hour's time the range was nestled in its place, and yea, the burners did erupt with tongues of flame, and yea, the oven did heat. And there was great rejoicing.

My point is not to complain, because no one was really at fault. Everyone did their best, and mistakes happen. My point is to applaud every single person from the salesmen to the technicians to the manager to the parts guy, all of whom have important skills and trying jobs and meet adversity with dedication and initiative. I almost wanted to go back to the store and tell the salesmen what happened, like sharing a war story at the VFW over a Hamm's.

But that would be silly. No, I'll be satisfied just seeing the Cheese Lady again, and saying, "I bring glad tidings! Fetch me the easily melted Wisconsin Cheddar!"

A sample, I mean. It was a bit pricey, and it wasn't that good.