As dairy farmers in central Minnesota in the 1950’s, our family struggled to make ends meet. My folks had been living on my Palmer grandparent’s farm since before I was born. The land we farmed was north of the Mississippi, and more suited for gravel pits than raising crops. We didn’t have much—our farm equipment and furnishings were all second hand, but what we had we took care of, respected and cherished. There were ten of us in the four-bedroom farmhouse, with our family sharing one bedroom—Mom and Dad in a double bed, my two brothers on a cot, and me in the crib.
In 1951, my brother, Charlie, was born, so I moved over to share the cot with my brothers. The next year my Uncle Ralph left to serve in the Korean War and my Aunt Virginia was married, so the four of us kids moved into one small bedroom and Mom and Dad finally got their own room. Three years later, my sister Julie was born and it was getting crowded again.
Living with my grandparents, aunt, and uncles wasn’t easy. I always thought my Grandma Palmer was a real crabby person, but now I realize that I would have been crabby too with all those people and kids in one house. I believe my grandparents had enough of the crowded conditions and finally, in 1958, they decided to build a new house on the farm property.
My family remained in the old farmhouse and my dad took a job off the farm in order to pay rent and expenses. It was an absolute joy for the seven of us to spread out in four bedrooms. Four of us kids had been sharing the cot with two on each end, and my little sister in the crib. Now I only had to share a room with my little sister which was a relief, as Charlie was a thrasher and kicker when he slept.
After Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Bill moved to the new house, we had to get furniture now that we were on our own. My parents went to a used furniture store and bought a walnut double bed for themselves and their old metal bed went to the two older boys to share. They bought a buffet to use as their dresser and Charlie got the old cot. My grandparents left behind two old frieze couches, a large oak dining room set, a rocker, and an old stuffed chair that had a rug over the seat cushion to keep the spring from doing damage to your backside. It was all old hand-me-down stuff, but it was all ours—and wonderful to now have so much room to ourselves.
My Neumann grandparents gave us new maple bunk beds for my sister and me. They also gave my mother a square oak parlor table and Grandma’s antique lamp. The Gone-with-the-Wind lamp was pink with two glass globes painted with pink roses. The table and lamp had been in my grandparent’s living room for many years. I thought it was absolutely the most elegant thing you ever did see. It sat next to the old rocker on that oak table with the old party line black telephone on the lower shelf.
I remember when we first brought the lamp home and we all stood back to admire it as Mom turned it on. The light shone through the beautiful pink glass—all five of us kids—ages three to ten—surrounding that beautiful, fragile, antique lamp.
“It’s an antique—an heirloom from my mother,” Mom said proudly. “My father converted it from kerosene to electric.” Then she turned and gave us a look that only moms can give and a stern warning, “No messing around, no fighting, or throwing pillows. If anyone breaks that lamp, you can just pack your bag and leave home—you understand?” Each of us nodded in agreement. We took her seriously.
By this time, I was nine years old, and I helped Mom around the house, doing dishes, sweeping and mopping the wood painted floors, and dusting furniture. At first, Mom was the only one who dusted that table and lamp. Later she taught me to do it, but I had to be very, very careful. Twice a year she would take the lamp apart and wash it. We always breathed a sigh of relief when it was back together again.
In 1960, Mom had another baby—little Jeffrey contracted spinal meningitis and only lived about a week. Mom was quite depressed after he died and there were hospital bills pouring in. She had to take a job outside the home as a waitress. She and Dad worked the evening shift, leaving home around 1:30 and returning around 11:00 pm. The older boys helped my uncle and grandpa with barn chores every evening. With both of them working, I assumed the role of mother of the house after I came home from school—making supper for us kids, doing dishes and homework, and getting the little ones to bed on time.
Two years later, Mom and I were spring-cleaning one day. I took all the rugs outside, hung, and beat them. We washed windows and curtains, and pulled out furniture and scrubbed behind and under everything. Mom set about to clean the antique lamp. She took off the top globe and carefully washed it and the hurricane glass. Her hands were wet when she put it back together—it slipped—and the beautiful pink globe hit the floor and shattered. Mom yelled, “Oh, no,” and sank to the floor and cried a thousand tears. We all stood around and looked at the broken pieces. Then finally, I got the broom and dustpan and swept away its beauty.
The next morning at breakfast, Charlie asked, “Are you leaving Momma?” I looked at him wondering what he was thinking.
My older brother, Ronnie, figured it out. “Yeah Mom, you said if anyone breaks that lamp they better pack their bag and leave.”
We all turned our heads and looked at Mom at the end of the table. I could see the pain in her face. “You don’t have to go Mommy,” my little sister Julie said patting Mom’s arm. We all looked at her and laughed.
Dad said, “It’s just a lamp. Nobody has to leave.”
“But it was a gift from my parents—a family heirloom,” Mom said blinking back tears.
“I know,” he replied, “it’s a family heirloom, but the family part of that is what’s the most important.”
He was absolutely right about that—family was the most important thing.
It always seemed a little sad to look at that lamp after that. It sat on that same oak table for many years—with the beautiful pink painted bottom and just the hurricane glass on top. Years later, my sister Julie inherited the lamp. She was able to find a new globe and have someone paint pink flowers on it. It’s still a family heirloom and now it has a story and a lesson to go along with it.
Here is a similar lamp to the one Mother had that was a gift from my best friend, Michele Clymer.
Carol Palmer Nugent is a member of Word Weavers of Northern Arizona, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Gopher Prairie Writers group. She spends winters in Arizona, and summer and fall in Minnesota with her husband and two dogs. She enjoys gardening, reading, writing, and learning something new each day. She has published short stories in 2016 in The Good Old Days and Ruby for Women Magazines, a true story in A Woman of Worth anthology in July, and two stories in Christmas Collection II for 2016. In addition, Carol received an honorable mention in the 2016 -85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Carol is currently working on a fiction story about her Grandfather Carlisle Palmer growing up in the Palmer House Hotels.