About thirty years ago, when I was six, I had a BB gun. It was the classic Daisy Red Ryder- it had belonged to my father when he was a kid.
I was a crack shot, only I didn’t have a lick of sense about what it was okay to shoot. I shot everything. Birds, tin cans, bottles, the windows in the abandoned school bus across the road. (I didn’t know that my great-uncle Ike was using that school bus to hide a whiskey still until I was much older.)
I grew up in a rural place- a place where my grandfather’s family had all bought farms near each other and raised cattle, pigs, and chickens while one member of each household worked a job at the mill or something so each family would have benefits.
Now, my great-grandfather had been a farmer on a nearby piece of land, but by the time that I was six, he was too old to farm any more, and my grandfather had inherited a bunch of his tools, including an old kerosene lantern. The lantern was one of what used to be called a “railroad lantern” by folks whose business was in barns, and what was called a “barn lantern” by folks who worked on the railroads. (Both of them used them, so I don’t know why the confusion.)
Here’s a picture of the kind of lantern, so you can get the idea of what we’re talking about. Pa (my great-grandfather) bought the lantern probably through the Sears-Roebuck catalog or at the dry goods store for a couple of bucks some time in the 1920s. He used it to go down to the barn late if he had a cow calfing, a horse foaling, or a pig… pigleting. There wasn’t much electric light anywhere in the Appalachians, so the lantern in question was his only source of outdoor light after dark. (Indoors he probably had a few of these.) A couple of bucks was a fortune to an old Appalcahian farmer then, too.
So, anyway, by the time that I was six, Pa had passed on, and his lantern was out hanging from a hook by the barn. I was a menace with a BB gun, so I shot a hole in the glass. Nobody ever knew that I did it. Nothing happened to me. But twelve years later, when I was out rooting around in the barn, I found the old lantern with its cracked globe, BB hole and all. That hole was staring up at me like an accusation. It’s a shame no one saw me do it and took a belt to me for it. It was a bratty thing for a six-year-old to do. I felt like a real asshole.
SO, I took the lantern home with me. It has moved with me every time that I have moved. It’s hung from various nails- I stuffed it with Christmas lights and it hung down in the low-ceiling room I rented in a group house on DuBose street in Athens. It was the only light in the room.
It used to hang on a hook outside the door of the house I had on Clover Street in Athens where it gradually filled with yellow jackets that had died in it. I dumped them out and dropped the lantern in a box when I moved to Chicago.
This fall, I dug the old thing out of a box again. Now that I am living in the middle of the country and vulnerable to power outtages, I started thinking about how useful it would be to have the thing working again. That, and it’s about time I made my peace with Pa’s ghost and fixed the thing, since I broke it all those years ago.
I started calling around to old hardware stores to see if anyone had a replacement “globe” for the old thing. It was made by Embury Manufacturing and it’s model is the #210 Supreme. One guy said that he thought that he might have something that would work. I bought the glass from him. It didn’t.
I took a piece of steel wool and scrubbed a bunch of the rust off of the lantern. I had never noticed whether or not it had a wick, so I bought one for it, then sat down and tried to figure out how to take it apart and replace the wick. I didn’t see any evidence of a crack or seam where it would come apart at the base. Finally, I took a flathead screwdriver and pried where it seemed like it should come apart and it popped open.
I found some more ancient yellow jacket husks on the inside, along with a powdery old wick. I dumped them all out. I oiled the whole lantern, replaced the wick, put it back together, then set it aside. It finally occured to me to so a google search for a replacement globe, and dig this. I found one, and for only five bucks! Yeah, I ordered it.
Tonight, even though the globe is cracked, I went ahead and filled the old lantern with kerosene and lit it. It burns with a soft glow. The crack didn’t get any worse, and I walked down to the lake using it to light my way.
It was something. Man, does it feel old-fashioned to walk around outside with a kerosene lantern. Ever notice how characters in films and plays that are doing that hold the lantern up really high? BOGUS. You can’t see where to put your feet when you’re doing that. You’ll trip over something and break your face and the lantern.
Learn something new every day, huh?
Now we’re ready for an ice storm too, once I get some firewood in the wood box.