A touch of home for Helen…

Sep 8, 2022 | 2 comments

Granny’s Oil Lamp

My grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, left the comforts and cultural amenities of East Oakland, California in 1902 to set up housekeeping in Oysterville — “just for a short time,” she assured her three-year-old daughter Medora and year-old son Albert.  Helen and her husband Harry had come to look after his aging father, patriarch of Oysterville and recently widowed.  Surely it wouldn’t be for long.

But even so, she brought along a few of the amenities that she could not bear to part with — a few treasured pieces of furniture, her china and crystal and sterling silverware and a lovely kerosene lamp with hand painted globe and pedestal.  Somehow, they have all survived — through Helen’s fifty years in this house, through the raising of seven children and through the vicissitudes of life as a dairy farmer’s wife.  They were used with love by my mother for twenty-plus years and continue to be used by me.  For all these years Granny’s treasures have symbolized realities embraced even as unrealized dreams have been set aside.

The Switches — one for the top, one for the bottom.

When FDR’s rural electrification program came to Oysterville in 1936, Papa saw to it that Granny’s lovely “oil lamp” was electrified.  I remember how proud I felt over the years when I was allowed to pull the little chains that activated the on/off switches and the top and bottom of the lamp would light up.

Forty years ago or so, the switches wore out.  And ten years ago, give or take, Nyel took the lamp apart and wired it so that it would work without the switches.  You could just plug it in and…voilà! Let there be light!  But it wasn’t the same.  Nyel knew it wouldn’t be, so he ordered new parts, got a wiring diagram, and put everything carefully in a zip lock bag.  For when he had time…

Dell at work!

Meanwhile, there were hospital stays and therapy sessions and uncertain recoveries and more doctoring.  And where was that zip lock bag, anyway?  Not long before Nyel died, I ran across it but… And then we both thought about Tucker’s friend Dell.  Not only did he seem to like to tinker and repair and clean up and revitalize all manner of things — he was good at it.  Really good!

Perfect!

So last weekend when he was here at Tucker and Carol’s, I asked him if he’d take a look.  Two days later — ten hours of work, Tucker told me — the lamp was back to 1936 condition — only better.  LED bulbs replaced the old incandescents, not only giving more light but less heat.  The brass fittings (which Dell had carefully cleaned) wouldn’t corrode as they had before — or at least not so rapidly.  And I learned that the style of switches and other hardware in the lamp did match that 1936 time period for the conversion to electricity.

 And best of all?  I totally enjoyed listening to and watching Dell and Tucker (who have known each other for many years) banter back and forth as Dell worked and Tucker acted as his assistant, finding just the right tools, the right sized bulbs, or wires or…  Of course to me it all comes under the heading of “magic.”  I can never thank the two of them enough!  And how I wish my grandmother could see her precious lamp glowing even more brightly 120 years after coming to Oysterville “just for a short time.”

2 Comments

  1. Nancy Holden

    The lamp is beautiful !

    Reply
  2. Cassin R Espy

    What a charming story! You, Cousin Sydney, are an exquisite writer!

    Much love from your Cass

    Reply

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