At some point in my childhood, my parents became the proud owners of an electric fork.
Not an electric knife — a commonplace item by the mid-70s, every modern kitchen had one — but an electric fork. It looks a lot like any other gadget of its era, but unlike my mom's pastel pink Sunbeam rotary mixer or our avocado green General Electric automatic can opener, this kitchen tool was (and is) a rather convincing fake.
It looks real enough, with an actual electric cord sticking out of its wooden handle, just where you'd expect it to be, secured by a realistic-looking metal cap. And it comes packaged in its own jaunty little cardboard box covered with splashy advertisements touting its benefits, to help cement the joke.
Over the years, this little gag gift has taken on the status of holiday icon in our family. We’ve successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of a gaggle of family friends; more than one new boyfriend brought home to meet the family has been the butt of our year-end tomfoolery. In fact, the charm of the electric fork lies in how surprisingly easy it is to put one over on even clever folks, at least for a quick moment. We pull it out of the bottom drawer and nonchalantly place it on the counter next to the turkey, accompanied by my mom's suitably vintage electric knife, and then ask our hapless mark to help us out by carving the Thanksgiving turkey or the Christmas prime rib. Even the least-gullible targets are caught up in the deception, ever so briefly. Sometimes, if the stars align just right—say the victim’s had enough to drink and we can all manage to keep a straight face — the fork even gets plugged in… and of course nothing happens. Then we all have a good laugh: It’s such a ridiculous trick.
This goofball practical joke has been making its rounds for so long, my mom can’t remember who the original gag-gift-giver was, but we owe him a deep debt of holiday cheer. The original electric fork still lives at my mom's house, hauled out for every family gathering, even if everybody knows the punch line. This year, intent upon carrying on the tradition in our own house, I managed to find my very own electric fork on eBay. It arrived just in time for the holidays. Now, we just need an unwitting victim...