HOME PLACE - This little lamp of mine - let it shine


The little lamp is at the end of its life span, I'm afraid.

Although the blue-and-white plaid shade is flat on one side, the Navy blue spool base is as perfect as the day I bought it for my oldest brother.

I remember the moment perfectly. My family was only just returned from living for 20 years in Anchorage when I took Dwight shopping with us here in town.

We were acclimating to reduced shopping choices -- the cloud -- and much-reduced driving times to get to those few options -- the silver lining.

Looking for home decor became much less of a chore and more like a party. We took everyone along on these jaunts.

You'll recall that Dwight was born developmentally disabled (mentally retarded in the terminology of the day), but lived more "abled" than so many of us do.

We were at a` box store and looking at lamps for my little girls. "I like that one, Ann," Dwight said suddenly.

My sibs call me Ann, stemming from my birth when Dwight could not wrap his mouth around "Sheila." And I like it.

Dwight wanted a light in his room, other than the overhead, and he wanted this sweet little blue lamp. About 15 inches high and cute as a country button. All for $7.99. Yes, true story in 1994.

Although I had been physically absent from my brother's life for 20 years, aside from infrequent visits home, this moment reminded me how connected we were by a shared childhood.

Raised in the same home that was dominated by our unhappy Nana, we were forever being yelled at to turn off lights we weren't using. Sometimes even the ones we were.

Yet, every evening, our grandmother turned on a little wall lamp after dishes were done. The kitchen was more or less closed for business and the overhead lights switched off. It was the only time of day we saw her sit down, except to eat dinner and not always then.

The wrought-iron lamp would go on, casting an orange circle in the yellow kitchen. My grandmother would flip on the stove burner for the tea kettle and put a few sugar wafer cookies (she liked the pink ones best) on a plate. The Lipton tea bag would go in the everyday cup -- not the good china, never that -- and Nana would sit in the vinyl-cushioned kitchen chair while the water came to a boil.

We learned early on if we stayed in the kitchen, quiet so as not to interrupt the nightly reading of the Union-Bulletin, we could ask for the very important job of pouring the hot water over the tea bag.

It was tricky. The tea kettle weighed roughly the same as a bag of potatoes and the water boiled up out of the metal spout like liquid fire.

The lucky butler would perform the task ever so carefully. Spilling the water and causing my grandmother to get up meant the end of that tiny, magical moment when Nana wasn't mad at anybody or hollering down the hall for us to start taking our baths.

Once the water was in, we would place the little packet of Sweet 'n' Low, put the cup its own saucer and balance a spoon alongside. Then we'd take one miniature step at a time to transport the whole treat from counter to the slim metal table next to the chair.

We held our breath to see if we'd be offered a sugar wafer for our labor, or a graham cracker as an inferior substitute. More than a sweet paycheck, the goodie signaled we could sit on the floor by Nana and read the discarded newspaper sections in companionable silence. I devoured Art Buchwald and eventually Erma Bombeck in the quiet.

All in the glow of that little wall lamp in her kitchen, for the few minutes a day my grandmother seemed to forget her anger at having to raise three of her six grandchildren. In my memory, the phone never rang and no one dared to interrupt..

All this, I am certain, fostered my fervent lamp addiction.

I love lamps, having no less than three in my bedroom, seven in my living and the adjoining sitting room and one lamp, of course, in my kitchen.

I feel no child's room is complete without a lamp they can switch off when reading time is over and cuddle down into their cozy nest of bedding.

I've had, cross my heart, lamps in my bathroom at times.

On that shopping day in 1994, I knew Dwight's heart reflected the same memory, the same instinct that lamp light means safety and a gentle happiness.

When cancer took my darling brother's life in 2007, I brought many of his things home. His bookshelf holds my books now; his Special Olympics shirt hangs in my closet.

His photo albums stand at the ready to make me cry, not that I need a lot of help.

And that lamp has lived in the laundry room at the Home Place since then, the collapsed side of its shade nicely contouring to the wall. Its blue base matched the border wallpaper and the small proportions made it a perfect fit in the room.

If you think it's weird to have a lamp in the laundry room, then perhaps yours doesn't see the same traffic mine does. It's often the chosen room for large-scale art projects, for instance. We bathe Cap'n Jack the wonder dog there, we repot plants and sometimes thaw a Thanksgiving turkey. The laundry room is the size of a generous bedroom and is the backdrop of family life at least once a day.

Dwight's lamp has shed a glow over it all, offsetting the harsh-but-practical overhead fluorescent bulbs.

Now, though, the little fixture is going through the 40-watt bulbs like a dieter newly fallen off the wagon mows through Ding Dongs. I worry someday I'm going to hear a sizzle, then find a fried outlet.

Or worse.

I just think if God is going to take my people, He could keep their things from going away, too.

Nonetheless I'm grateful I've had my brother's lamp -- like Dwight has been there to say "Welcome home, Sister. You be fine?"

Thank you, Brother. I be fine.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in