Sunday, January 19, 2014

PULL-CHAIN MEMORIES


By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Many of the older homes I walked into as a youngster had one- or two-bulb ceiling fixtures in the middle of the room, operated by a long pull chain that hit any tall fellow in the head. These lights, the fashion of the time when electricity first came to old houses in old villages, were literally illuminating after gas jets, but they were awfully harsh, directing shadows on people and furniture, as in the film noir treatment of a Raymond Chandler mystery.
    So it is that I have erased any trace of ceiling fixtures in every home I’ve owned, save the kitchen. And even there task lighting not only makes for better veggie cutting but sets the mood. Kitchens, like living rooms, bathrooms ad certainly bedrooms are all about mood.
     My Spring Valley, N.Y., grandfather had a wonderful “standard lamp,” which others call floor lamps, but the British moniker sounds more accurate since movable lighting became common fare almost as quickly as did ceiling fixtures. My grandfather had his placed next to a large and comfy chair, and the 100-watt bulb seemed to provide the sun’s touch for any a youngster’s reading of the Saturday Evening Post or a New York City tabloid.
     His lamp, like the original ceiling fixtures, had a pull chain, not a twist knob, not a push-pull contraption, both of which you always seem to fumble for in the dark, almost knocking over the fixture.
    No, a longish pull chain with a glass bauble at its end, which swung and hit the lamp’s upright pole three or four times. It was easy to locate because of the glass and the chain itself. Its action was smooth, and during the 15 or so years I sat next to that standard lamp, the chain never failed.
     There was certainty in its action, yes, and also sureness that I would soon be comfortable in a chair where while others in the family talked, I could get lost in a tabloid or magazine.
    Contrast this pull chain, which turned on a world of delight, to the dangling one from ceiling fixtures that cast harsh light, the mysterious mood of which was dreary.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.

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