Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 21, 2008

Something so simple

Many times husband Art talks about his childhood adventures with his uncle into Northern Wisconsin to pick up Christmas trees. This was well before large growers went into the business of supplying trees, so Art's family bought them from individual farmers who cut from their woodlands. After the trees were transported to Art's hometown of Appleton, his Grandfather Herrmann sold them from a lot next to his home.

This had been going on for 20 years by the time Art began to go along to help. One particular farm family had become the focus of their procurement. This family contacted neighboring farmers to see if they had trees to sell and then made the necessary arrangements.

Art said visiting this family was half the adventure, for despite his own family never being well off, it was an education to see just how tough some people had it. Every building on the property looked like it was about to fall down. None looked as if it had ever been painted.

One year, when it was difficult finding good tall trees for Appleton's churches, the family cut trees from their own windbreak.

They were extremely generous. Art's uncle always did his best to avoid being at their home during meal times as they would insist on feeding their guests, while barely able to feed themselves.

Art said one year stood out from the others. He and his uncle arrived about 9 a.m. and when they went inside the house, a lamp burned brightly by the front window. Art said it was no ordinary lamp. It had both an inner and outer shade, the latter having a woods scene, complete with a stream and waterfall. The inner shade had a pebbly pattern on it and the heat of the bulb made it turn. The stream and waterfall were translucent and the turning inner shade made it appear as if water was moving down the stream and over the fall.

And the family loved it. That was why this family, who cut every corner just to make a go of it, had it burning in broad daylight. Several times during the day, Art and his uncle returned to the home and each time the lamp was on. And each time one or more members of the family would direct their attention to the lamp and comment about how remarkable they found it to be.

By the time they left in the late afternoon, Art and his uncle were tired from cutting and loading the trees. They hadn't had an opportunity to be alone from the time they arrived and Art wondered what his uncle was thinking. But before he could ask, his uncle said, "It must be nice to be able to get such joy from such a simple thing."

I thought of this story recently because of something that happened to us. For years I have mentioned to Art that I'd like to have candles to put in the windows at Christmas. But the ones we found we knew would either eat batteries at an alarming rate or had power cords to hassle with - something was never quite right.

Then, this past December - right before the ice storm, we came across some cheap ones at a closeout store in Topeka. We joked about how poorly they were made and wondered how long the batteries would keep the LED-lit "flames" flickering.

In the end, as much as a joke as anything, I bought four of them. Art had to repair one of them immediately and the others needed work.

We used one of them the first few nights after the storm, when we had nothing but the fireplace and the lone flickering candle to give us light.

After we got power back and were decorating for Christmas, we put three of the candles in the living room windows where we could see them when we came home. We put the fourth in a bathroom window facing the back yard where no one would see it.

Except us.

And the four candles are still in place. Here it is the beginning of spring and each night the candles still come on. Art had to replace the batteries in one and the others are pretty weak, but for some reason, we seem to enjoy those plastic candles as much as the farmer's family appreciated their waterfall lamp. I almost hate to think about disassembling them and storing them until the next holiday.

It IS nice to get such pleasure from something so simple.

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