Though we were not wealthy, my mother believed in the art of gracious living. She had filled our house with beautiful furnishings, one of which was a pair of living room table lamps. They had lovely pleated, crème-colored silk shades that, of course remained covered in plastic cellophane, just in case dust should fall on them. The bodies of the lamps were carved, fifteen-inch, heavy-leaded crystal with an approximate two-inch, graduated brass base. They were patterned after a Waterford design and they were exquisite. One of my chores was to polish the lamps. I didn’t mind because when cleaned, rainbows covered the highly polished wood floor when the sun shone through them. The lamps were an important feature of mother’s concept of gracious living.
I had asked her how much they cost. “Don’t you worry about it”, she replied. Just know that they are expensive and can never be replaced.”
Each sat on its own lamp table in the aisle between the living room and the kitchen flanking the bathroom door that faced the great room. I was careful to make a wide berth around them whenever I passed by.
The lamps were a veritable magnet to my five-year-old brother, Stephen. It was inevitable that the combination of Stephen and those lamps would lead to a tragedy. They were a challenge to him. He had to prove he could pass dangerously close without knocking them off their tables.
I knew I’d be blamed if Stephen harmed those lamps, so I tried, to no avail, to stop him from getting me into trouble. I would be held responsible for any trouble he got into and all he did was get into mischief, delighting in my panic.
As predicted, on one occasion when he was trying to prove to me how skilled he was that Stephen’s luck finally ran out.
“See, Teffie, I can…” was all I heard as he raced past the table. My whole body froze at the sound of his knee bumping the corner of the lamp table, followed by the shattering of glass. The crystal hit the floor and exploded into a thousand pieces.
Mother yelled from my parents’ bedroom, “What’s going on out there!?”
Trying to explain that I hadn’t broken the lamp and that I tried to get Stephen to stop was useless. No matter what I said, it would still be my fault for not preventing Stephen from destroying the lamp. I took the blame, but so did Stephen. To atone, I didn’t tell my mother, but I saved my birthday money to replace the lamp. I had no idea how much it cost, but resolved to pay whatever the price.
One day, mother and I were in Newberry’s five and dime downtown. I looked up and amazingly, high on a shelf, there was the precious lamp! I asked the clerk how much it cost and she said it was twenty-five dollars. I had more than enough to afford it! So happy I could do something to make amends, I rushed over to my mother and pointed out the lamp and told her I was going to buy it, but my mother said, “No.” I didn’t understand why and kept pressing her to explain. Finally, she revealed the lamp’s worth.
“The lamp isn’t irreplaceable because it was the only lamp in existence. My mother, your grandmother, gave those lamps to me as a wedding gift. She used to scrub floors for a living and it took everything she earned and so much love for her to buy them for me. Nothing replaces the love she has for me, nor the love I have for you wanting to spend all the money you have to buy me the same lamp.”
I learned a lot in Newberry’s that day. Lamps are replaceable, but love is priceless.
Stephanie grew up in New Mexico, near the Texas Panhandle. She lives in the Seattle area working for a major healthcare company. Writing has been her passion and she is currently working on a fictional western drama, the life of a female Bounty Hunter set in mid-1800 America.