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On a visit to my mother in Mississippi, we fell into reminiscing about the old days. I asked her, after more than 60 years of birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day gifts, what her favorite was. She didn't hesitate.

"That vegetable slicer you gave me!" she exclaimed. "I've never been prouder of anything."

Her voice broke. "The way you saved up your money and kept it a secret like you did."

Certainly, she seemed more touched in retrospect than she had on the morning she opened the box over a half-century earlier. I didn't remember the gift being the stellar success that she did.

I was 13 when I decided to give her a gift to make up for all the others. Until then, there had been a succession of misfires — a nauseatingly sweet perfume saved for some special occasion that never arrived; long, dangly rhinestone earbobs bravely worn to the A&P once and then mysteriously lost; a crimson lipstick favored mostly by circus clowns that drew sympathetic smiles from the other mothers at church. But this time was going to be different.

Ron Popeil, in the world's very first infomercial, shouted from our black-and-white TV set that he had the perfect solution:

"It Slices! It Dices! And for only $7.77!"

The salesman swore this wondrous machine could even julienne carrots! I'd never in my life seen a julienned carrot and suspected only very sophisticated people in New York City had eaten food that pretty.

"And wait! There's more!" Ron shouted.

Ronco's "Veg-O-Matic" came with not one but two blades and a sharpener and a magical gadget that extracted juice from a lemon and cored an apple! Mom could put away her knives.

There would be no more spilled blood in our kitchen.

For months, I saved every cent of my quarter-a-week allowance. I washed neighbors' cars and swept their driveways. As the big day neared, I imagined my mother opening the package and weeping for joy.

When she did open the present, she acted surprised, though I don't remember any tears being shed that day. At least none of joy.

In my mother's hands the miracle gadget didn't behave as it did for Mr. Popeil. It was a lot more complicated than it had looked on TV.

But she was determined to get it right. She went through a couple of exploding tomatoes. The potatoes got stuck halfway through the cubing blade. The carrots might as well have been rocks.

Mom could see how important it was to me, so she kept trying. I recall a killing ground of fallen produce, slaughtered fruits, vegetables everywhere, the floor littered with her failed attacks on onions and bell peppers. Tomato juice dripped from the cabinets and countertops. There were seeds in her hair.

To her credit, she never once blamed the Veg-O-Matic. She said it would take a little practice to learn to use such a fine piece of machinery, but that eventually she would get the hang of it. And when she did, it would save her so much time she might even become a lady of leisure.

To the best of my knowledge, my mother never used the machine again. For a few weeks it occupied a place of honor on the countertop between the toaster and the electric meat carver before disappearing completely with no fanfare, like my other Mother's Day presents.

I figured if I ever wanted to have my carrots julienned, I would have to move up North.

"Whatever happened to it?" I asked my mother.

She looked embarrassed. "Well, Johnny, I ended up sneaking it out with the trash. It just seemed to sit there laughing at me." She reached over and touched my hand. "But the memory of that sweet contraption still lives in my heart."

I suspect that no woman who ever set foot in a kitchen asked to be gifted a Veg-O-Matic. She would know full well such a thing would be more of a hindrance than a help. Yet in the 1960s and '70s, millions of mothers received one. And most, like my mom, tried to make it work with all their heart.

Jonathan Odell, of Edina, is a writer.