November 24, 2017

Pride Before the Fall

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’m trying to become proficient on the lathe.  It’s a tool with a huge inventory of inside knowledge.  But it’s more critical than ever that I progress.  My friend Larry Davis has retired from Higgins Electric Motor Service in Hampden.  I used to bring my machining to him ― at least all the complex work that absolutely required competence.  The other stuff I’ve been dubbing around with myself, trying to learn the tricks of the trade.

Yeah.  Dubbing.  That’s me.  I’ve got a lot to learn.

For example I recently turned a support for the glass shade on one of our kerosene lamps.  The factory solution held the shade far too low, blocking most of the light in the process.  While Central Maine Power has made leaps and bounds in reliability since we first moved into this home, we still lose electric service from time to time.  Who doesn’t?  It’s inevitable.

Anyway, the shade support was a more complex project than it sounds.  It required support on the lamp as well as support for the shade.  Then the two had to be connected, concentric rings with radial arms between them.

It was an afternoon’s project that actually turned out well.  I was pleased.  Proud, in fact.  Absolutely, the lamp was heavier when I finished.  But I shrugged that off.  Surely if gravity was the only force working against me, I had nothing to fear.  I set the lamp up on the kitchen table and admired it throughout dinner.

The woodstove kept the kitchen cozy.  Contentment defined the space.  I’d completed a complex project on the lathe.  The dogs and cats were worn out from the day’s activities and snored, each in their various places.  I yawned myself while reading the paper.  “Guess I’ll follow suit.”

I made certain that everything was put to bed properly and went upstairs.

The wind moaned from the northeast.  The temperature plummeted.  The house creaked and groaned as it settled for a long winter’s night.

Shortly after midnight, the power went out with a ‘ding’ echoing from the telephone.  That woke me.  The electric clock on my bureau went dark.  The bathroom nightlight followed suit.  I stretched under the covers trying to muster the resolution necessary to stoke the kitchen woodstove.  The warmth of bed was seductive but the specter of frozen pipes chilled my comfort.

Finally I threw back the quilts and padded downstairs to do the job.  I didn’t dress.  Why?  I was headed straight back to bed.  I didn’t turn on any lights, either.  Somewhere in the unconscious zone between sleep and waking, dead in the half-life of automatic pilot, I tried.  It was ineffective.  Oh, yeah.  The power was out.

I stumbled into the kitchen.  Literally.  I tripped over the doorsill.  My hip slammed into the kitchen table.  I heard the lamp tip.  I grabbed for it in the dark and missed.  In fact that misjudgment gave it the added impetus required to reach the edge.

We have a ceramic tile floor in the kitchen.  Can you hear the crash?  I can.  Still.  Then I smelled kerosene.

Okay.  I suppose it wasn’t an emergency.  Not really.  Still, spilling kerosene on the floor in front of a smoldering woodstove isn’t in my comfort zone.  Nowhere near.  In haste I fumbled for the flashlight on top of the refrigerator, grabbed the paper towels and turning, stepped on broken glass in my bare feet.

My.  This really was my night, wasn’t it?

Shivering, wearing just my shorts, I cleaned the floor.  I gathered up the smashed lamp, chimney and shade.  Then I mopped the kerosene gradually mixing with ever more blood, using a dimming flashlight to do it.  I packed the lot into our outdoor garbage bin before bringing in wood to stoke the stove.

I got it all done just as the power came back on.  No.  I’m not making any of this up.  In fact I’m washing the sheets this morning while I write this.  I’m using Woolite and cold water for the job.  Still, I don’t believe those blood stains are coming out.  Ever.

Tonight my wife comes home from a veterinary conference in Florida.

I’m not telling her any of this.

But I am going to point out with real pride the bent and mangled shade support I made for a kerosene lamp.

Now I just have to turn the lamp to go with it.