Saturday, June 6, 2009

Remembrances of a Childhood (Installment #1)

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (1 of 3)


by Lynn Harrington


1920, Syracuse, New York

The lamp she carried made flickering patterns of light and shadow on the walls and steps as Mama led Jimmy and me up the steep stairway to our little bedroom under the gable at the front of the house. It was our bedtime, and after she had tucked us in and kissed us goodnight, she took from her apron pocket a candle stub which she placed in a Mason jar that rested on our small dresser. This bit of candle she lit for us, admonishing us that when the candle went out, we must close our eyes and go to sleep. We watched in silence as she left the room, taking with her the sphere of light which surrounded her as she carried the kerosene lamp away down the stairs.

We loved to watch the wavering candle light that shone through the glass of the jar. It danced and darted on walls and ceiling, and flashed dim reflections from our small window. On most nights we drifted off to sleep before the end of that magic-lantern show. If sleep did not steal us away first, we would listen and watch for the moment we knew would come when the candle, burning slowly lower in the depths of the jar, would fail for lack of air, and with a muffled, guttering sound, go out. Then in a moment, in the still darkness, we would catch the faint whiff of the expiring candle's little puff of smoke, and know that it was time for sleep.

We were little boys that summer, Jimmy and I. He was three and I was five. When we awoke in the morning our first thought was of the weather. Not as weather is analyzed and forecast for us today; our concern was much simpler. If it had rained and the grass and ground were wet, we would have to stay in the house; if it was dry, we could play out in the wonderful out-of-doors. And so when we awoke we lay quite still, listening for the first delivery wagon that would pass along the street below our window.

Horses drew those wagons, horses wearing iron shoes. As they passed by we would listen for the sound of their tread on the hard, black pavement. If it was dry, their iron shoes made a sharp, metallic sound -- clip, clop, clip, clop. If the pavement was wet, the sound was a softer, disheartening shlip, shlop, shlip, shlop.

And that is the way we awoke to the sounds of morning, and to the lives that were opening before us.

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (2 of 3)

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (3 of 3)
More, of course, to come. -- Ed.



  1. A wonderful, evocative start!


  2. I guess I'll have to comment as Mrs. P or Mike's Mom or something since another Ronnie got here first with a comment. I absolutely agree with what she said ---

    Was all this literally in the city limits of Syracuse? Candlelight? I certainly remember horsedrawn wagons on the streets of Mt.Vernon, and ice boxes, but no candlelight.

  3. Thank you, Ronnies -- and, yes, Mrs. P., it was within the city limits of Syracuse, in the inner southside. As you'll see in future installments, this was a very poor family; the house had no electricity or hot running water. I understand that such lack of now-common utilities was still the norm in poorer parts of Syracuse as late as 1925 or 1930. Part of what makes this unfolding reminiscence fascinating to me (aside from the fact that it was my own family going through it!) is how they not only managed what we would consider hardship, but thrived within its strictures.

  4. Worth the wait.

    I frantically searched for the "click here for page 2" option for over a minute before finding the tiny words "more to come"


    Make 'em come soon ok?

    This is FANTASTIC Dad!


  5. Lynn and Jimmy, Doug and Adam, close quarters, scarce dollars -- yes, I thought of the parallels often while compiling this.

    Stay tuned, Ad, as I know you will.

  6. Good stuff, nice voice. I'm ready for a fun ride.

    Mike P.