Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Out of the past

John's photograph captures Mr. Darcy coming face to face with a coal-oil lamp from the Alberta farmhouse where I grew up.

Reading a novel from the 1840s by the light of a coal-oil lamp seems very appropriate. John lit the lamp and brought it out to where I was reading on the deck of our house on Saltspring Island. 

As mom and dad gradually got rid of their possessions during their many moves after they left the farm, they distributed mementos of that long-gone world to each of their five children. Among the things that came to me was one of the coal-oil lamps that helped light our farmhouse until we got electricity there when I was about 13.

In the pre-electric days, the "serious" light was from kerosene lamps, with their peculiar smell and mantles so delicate they'd disintegrate at a touch. Kerosene was for the kitchen and living room, but in the bedrooms, there were dimmer coal-oil lamps.

We usually did our homework in the brighter-lit areas, but at some point I likely read or studied by the very same coal-oil lamp that now sits on our mantlepiece on Saltspring Island. On Monday night, John lit the lamp "just to see if it still works" and brought it out to where I was reading on the deck. It gave a pleasing warm yellow light, quite sufficient to read by, and nicely in tune with the book I was reading -- Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, written in the 1840s.

I don't know the provenance of the lamp, but since it was around when I was a child, it is at least 66 years old, more likely 70 or more. It may have even belonged to Grandpa Volkart, as my parents moved into his house when us kids were young, in which case it could be much older.

When John tried it out Monday, it lit at a touch, and worked like it always had. Which made me think about technology and planned obsolescence. I wonder how much of what is being manufactured today will still be working -- and pleasing -- 70 years from now?

1 comment:

  1. We had the coal oil lamps and kerosene too at Gabriola before we had electricity installed. They were one of my favourite things about the place....so cosy. My parents kept some of them for power outages but we snagged a couple when we bought our first house and used them for years.