Most of the products we use every day don’t last very long. I don’t know if its planned obsolescence or simply that they don’t built things like they used to. Most things we rely on seem to be here today and gone tomorrow. But I bet, if you look around the recesses of your home you might find an item that transcends time. Something that will always be there when you needed it.
We lost power a for a few hours a couple of nights ago. You know the feeling. You’re sitting watching TV and suddenly everything goes dark. Immediately there’s that ‘Oh Shit’ moment when you wonder where the flashlights are and weren’t you supposed to buy batteries?
We found a couple of flashlights which allowed us to find one candle. One candle doesn’t put out much light. Remember all those old movies where they lit the candle and the whole room would brighten? It doesn’t work that way. We needed more than one candle. Or, we could just go to bed.
Growing up there was always this old kerosene lamp in the house. It would sit on a shelf, unused for months, and was only pulled down when the lights went out. It has a thick glass bottom with a swirling design. Brass fittings and a shapely glass top. There is no writing on it. It does not say made in China.
In an unusual show of preparedness, I had bought lamp oil and ordered wicks from an online store so the old lamp was ready to use. It sat on the top of a bookcase in the living room. It wasn’t there for light but was more of a decorative piece. It looks cool and goes with the modern/rustic of our house on the mountain.
I lit the wick, adjusted the flame and replaced the glass top. No, bright light didn’t fill the room. It was more of a calm, subtle glow that bounced from the granite counter top and spread out slowly dissipating as it found the corners of the room.
I began to wonder how old the lamp was. It had been a fixture in my parent’s house for as long as I could remember. I called my 90-year old Dad and asked him where the lamp had come from. He didn’t know. It had always been in the house even when he was young.
So now I’m thinking: I wonder if this lamp sat on my grandparent’s kitchen table?
When my grandfather came from Italy before World War I, he was recruited, along with other Italian stone workers, to work in a large granite quarry in Maine. They would cut and shape the stones that went into many New York buildings. My grandmother eventually joined him and there they raised four daughters and a son before eventually following work south the New York City.
I pictured them all sitting around the table in Maine, my grandmother serving the meal, grandfather at the head of a rough wooden table. The daughters helping with the plates, my aunt Dorothy (Dorotea actually) taking charge as always. The lamp shedding its light through many long, cold Maine nights. The lamp spreading the same glow I was looking at now in our house in Montana.
I don’t know how much the lamp cost new back then, maybe a dollar? Think of your new phone that cost hundreds of dollars and needs to be replaced every few years. How many of the things we buy today will work just as well a hundred years from now?
Most things are disposable and not very dependable. This lamp represents something else, It’s that one or two friendships that you know will last as long as you do. You might know hundreds of people and have scores of ‘friends’, but there’s only a handful that will be there from beginning to end regardless of what transpires in between.
The next time the power goes out, the computers crash, the cell towers stop I’ll pull the old lamp off the shelf and it will still work. It will still be glowing as it did a hundred years ago around a table of immigrants in Maine.