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Friday, April 16, 2010

Irreplaceable Blue

Situated below the edge of the town parking lot, the one room building used to house a cobbler. Now, the tiny place hosts a fix-it shop. The screen door squealed and slammed behind me as I entered, lugging the blue ginger-jar lamp the cat knocked off a side table when she was still a kitten. Up until this winter, with just the right tapping and wiggling, we could still get the thing to work, notwithstanding the bent frame or the burn mark on the shade from the time the hot bulb tipped in its damaged socket.

When it started flickering on and off a few months ago, emitting a smell ranging from old fish to hot plastic, we unplugged it. It sat dark for weeks until our daughter asked: “Are we ever going to put a new bulb in that lamp?” Explaining that it would take more than sixty watts to get it going, my husband looked at me and said, “Maybe we should look for a new one.” “I guess,” I replied, unmotivated. The liquidation price back when we were newlyweds was more than I’d like to spend now and besides, if we purchased another, it wouldn’t just be a lamp we’d be replacing.

The original arrived in an oversized box off a UPS truck as a wedding present from my childhood friends, twin sisters I’d played with since birth. It stood distinctive and bold in the four room condominium my husband and I purchased a few months prior to our wedding. We nestled it in on top of one of the stereo speakers that substituted as a side table in our combo living/dining area, beside the pull-out sofa we’d imported tax free via a tractor-trailer from a North Carolina manufacturer--before Massachusetts law eliminated such bargains.

A year-and-a-half later, the gift moved seamlessly to the living room of our first house, where we determined that procuring a matching lamp for the other side of the couch would bestow a decorative coup on an otherwise worn and echoing room. Crossing our fingers, we called the now-defunct department store where the gift had been purchased and rattled off the make, the colors and the serial number.

A helpful customer service associate confirmed that the chain no longer carried the item in question, but informed us there was one left, at a distribution center, about to be delivered to a liquidation outlet. If we wanted it, we’d have to drive to the warehouse forty miles from where we lived to pick it up. So with the credit card we’d forbidden ourselves to use in hand, one Friday evening after work we entered the canyon of a stockroom in a cement building on a peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor. Searching out a two-footed human among the hive of fork-lift driving workers, we handed over a confirmation number and left with the last blue ginger-jar lamp in the chain.

Twenty-five plus years later, this memory propelled me to the dilapidated building downtown where I entered to encounter the back-side of an white-haired man balanced on a step stool, bending over the wooden legs of an upholstered side-chair perched atop a worktable. The shelves in the crowded room held rows of wire spools and plastic tool bins. A stack of knives, presumably waiting to be sharpened, lay next to the cash register by the door. The remainder of the room was stuffed with every manner of window screen, small appliance, broken chair and table--even a floor lamp whose brass post was gripped in the claws of a full length ceramic bear. “What do we have here?” the man asked, as he stepped down from the stool.

Peering into the socket of our lamp he said: “Hmm, see these burn marks here? Okay. Replace the wiring? Five dollars. A new socket will be another five. If it needs a saddle it will run ya a buck fifty. Add twenty for labor. It will be done by the end of the week.”

Three days and $31.50 later, our old favorite glows on a polished table across from its twin, book-ending the worn couch that replaced our dog-eared North Carolina import. We'll be in the market for our third sofa soon, but it's good to know that some memories, no matter how distant, manage to keep on shining.

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rae said...

Lovely post!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

As always, what a thoughtful, beautiful post. I've left you an award over on my blog :D

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Isn't it funny how we become so attached to certain things? I have the two horribly abused end tables handed down from my grandmother to my my mom to me--given to us when my husband and I first got married nearly 14 years ago when we were too poor to buy any furniture (our first dining room table was a fold up card table). And I still have these tables, all scarred and water marked and chipped, but solid. One sits beside my bed, the other in my sitting room. Perhaps someday, I'll get them refinished, but I sort of like them how they are, showing all the wear from use over the years. It's like I inherited all those years along with the tables.

I think maybe we hang on to the items like we hang on to the memories. I'm glad you got that lamp fixed.

Helen Ginger said...

I would frequent that store whenever you need something repaired and tell your friends about him. So many small fix-it shops like that are gone, out of business. He sounds like a treasure.

Straight From Hel

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I am envious of your observational skill. Really. You give such rich detail in both the memories and the repair shop that I felt I was in your shadow. Lovely lamp and lovely work, Liza.

glnroz said...

Oh goodness,, for a minute there, I thought you were going to throw that thing away,, I was saying,,"No, it can be easily fixed",, Somethings ya just have to hold on to..good post...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What fortune to find someone who could fix it for such a reasonable amount.

Robin said...

I, too, am amazed at your observational skills. I don't know if you have always had them or if you have honed them since you started writing. It makes for a rich story.

I hope you told this one to your daughter so that she knows that sometimes a lamp isn't just a lamp.

arlee bird said...

In our disposible society, it's nice to read a story about someone who actually just got something fixed rather than adding to the landfill.

I have a small bedroom table size version of a lamp like that in my home office. Had it for years--don't even remember where I got it.

Tossing It Out

Sharon said...

What a visual journey. I love your talent for description and story telling. I had to smile at you using the "forbidden" credit card to buy the matching lamp. Oh, how many times I've disobeyed my own rules. Great post.

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Lisa and Laura said...

Oh, I just can't imagine parting with the lamp after all you'd been through to find it's partner! Good choice to have it fixed...and it's a really nice lamp!