The Lamp

I made a lamp when I was a teenager. I was taking woodshop in my first year of high school and needed a project. Mr. Glenn gave us several options. Bookcase. Kitchen knife block. Side table. Lamp. I chose what I thought was the most challenging.

I can’t remember where I got the inspiration. I’m guessing Mr. Glenn gave me some suggestions. I can’t imagine that I would have thought of this all on my own.

“If you can find an old wagon wheel hub, they make a nice piece for a lamp.”

I rode my Honda 90 over to Aunt Mary Liza’s house on Simpson Mill Road. I loved that old home place. Weathered wood siding on the outside. Never painted. The house sat up on fieldstone piers. Tongue and groove pine floors, walls, and ceilings throughout. A shotgun hallway down the middle with screen doors on either end.

“Would it be alright if I got a wagon wheel hub out of your barn for a project at school?”

“Come on in the kitchen and sit with me first. You look like you could use a ham biscuit.”

I was a skinny kid. Maybe 110 lbs. soaking wet. Aunt Annie and Aunt Mary Liza were always trying to feed me whenever I showed up. Something I never objected to and always kind of expected.

“Tell me about this project of yours.”

There was always a sense of negotiation that took place when asking for something. You couldn’t just ask and expect to be handed what you wanted. If I needed something, it was almost always given but there had to be a good reason.

The old folks in my family held on to things forever. Piles of treasures hidden away in old barns and smokehouses and tool sheds. They all grew up during the Great Depression and they understood what it meant to “do without.” So, if they had something, they held on to it in case one day they might need it.

I had been in Uncle Clem’s barn many times as a kid. It was a place to climb around in the loft and explore the contents that hung on a nail or that sat on a shelf inside one of the old cribs.

While I was eating my biscuit and drinking a glass of milk, I knew there was a wagon in the barn and a couple of extra broken wheels leaning up against the wall. I didn’t need a good wheel. I just wanted one of the hubs from a busted wheel. The mules had long been gone and in my mind, they were never going to be used again.

“I’ve got this idea to make a lamp out of a wagon wheel hub in my shop class. Mr. Glenn said if I could find a hub, he’d show me how to make one. I’ve got to do it for part of my grade.”

It took me years to realize that Aunt Mary Liza was going to give me what I wanted no matter what I said. There was really no negotiation here. She just wanted to visit with her great nephew. Small talk over a biscuit was just her way of inviting me into her world for a few minutes.

“Of course, you can have it. You watch out for snakes and wasp out there.”

I had a handsaw with me for cutting the hub free from the spokes. The oak was still solid for being so old. I tied it to the back of my bike and off I went.

The project was successful. I cleaned and sanded and stained the hub. I made a round base and top out of oak, standing the hub up on end. I ran a threaded tube up through the middle with a locking nut on bottom and top. The lamp cord went up through the tube and I put a brass socket and shade harp on top.

Mama let me put my lamp on the round table in our den. She said she loved it but take into consideration that mothers love their sons unconditionally. It wasn’t exactly a fine piece of woodcraft. It sat on that table until I moved into a tiny apartment in Athens while I was away at school.

When I got married, I brought my lamp into our collection of misfit treasures. Every couple brings stuff into the relationship. She had a rocking chair that she got from her sister. I had my lamp. But she did not love my lamp the way I thought she could have.

“I’m sorry but it just doesn’t fit in with the décor of the room.”

I kept it around anyway.

This lamp has been in three states, three apartments, and six houses. Not once was it ever allowed to sit out and fulfill its noble purpose. It has lived in boxes and attics and storage rooms from Georgia, to Tennessee, to Ohio and back.

But I always knew where it was. I couldn’t toss it. I might find a use for it one day.

I have been working for months trying to complete a screened-in porch on the back of the house. I hired out all the heavy lifting and took over the unfinished project back in December. A day here and a few hours there, I’m finally down to the last few details.

The porch is rustic. Rough-cut cypress. Pine walls. Stone. The floor is vinyl water-proof laminate, but it looks like oak flooring. I like the feel and smell of the room. A place for a man and his faithful dog on a cool evening.

I’ve been talking for some time about having a couch with an end table and lamp out on the porch. I didn’t want a fancy lamp, but something that looked like it went with the rustic décor. Walmart doesn’t have that kind of lamp on the shelf. I thought I’d probably have to go to one of those trendy stores in the mountains that caters to the folks who own cabins up around Blue Ridge or Ellijay.

Yesterday evening, I thought about my lamp.

I knew exactly where it was. Twenty-four years ago, I put it on a shelf in the storage room under our house, way back in the corner where things went that we would never use but refused to throw away.

I turned on the light, moved a few things out of my way, and there it sat. The shade has been long gone. The brass is completely tarnished. The light socket is shot.

I brought it outside into the sunlight. Covered with a thick layer of dust and spider webs, I got an old toothbrush and used my air compressor to clean it up. It’ll take a little work to make it look good again. I can replace the hardware and get a new shade.

Here’s the thing. I am at a time in life when I can use any lamp I want on my porch and a 50-year-old lamp from shop class seems to be just perfect.

I can’t wait to see it light up the room.

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