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The things we keep for love

by Stacey Tol

Stacey is the mom of three collegians and one labradoodle puppy. When she is not writing or on a walk in Florida’s sweltering heat, she likes to bake sweets, play games with her hilarious family, and climb rock walls. She enjoys reading Regency-era novels in the evening, but buckles down with nonfiction audiobooks during the day. She earned an MFA in creative writing last summer.

If television is to be believed (as it obviously should be), every married couple has that one decoration or piece of furniture that they just can’t see eye-to-eye on. It may be the husband’s worn, pea green recliner or the wife’s crocheted toilet seat cover. Whatever it is, someone hates it and someone loves it. For the sake of the marriage, the aggrieved spouse will mostly bite his/her tongue and keep the peace with only an occasional eyeroll or snide remark.

The oddball item in our house is mine. For want of a better term, I’ll call it a “stove lamp” but don’t jump to the hasty conclusion that it is a lamp for the kitchen stove. It is not. What it is, is a one-of-a-kind lamp created by my Grandpa over fifty years ago. It hasn’t, in fact, functioned as a lamp for a while now—my electrical skills not being equal to the needed repair. Nevertheless, the stove lamp is a cherished piece of my childhood nostalgia and it is here to stay.

The story of the stove lamp began at Macy’s in a time when Macy’s was more than just a ho hum department store at the end of every ho hum mall in every midsized, ho hum U.S. city. Back then, it sold big things. Exciting things. It was the Macy’s of “Miracle on 34th Street” and it was full of wonder.

Following his stint in the Pacific during World War II, Grandpa landed a job driving for Macy’s, and stuck with it for 35 years. Each morning, he’d navigate a loaded semi through the bustling streets of Kansas City to the Macy’s department store, he would unload the truck, then make his way back to the distribution center, where the semi would be reloaded and readied for the same routine the next day.

There were certain perks that came with Grandpa’s job, the biggest being a lifetime discount on Macy’s purchases—which Grandma leveraged to the fullest. Another benefit, from my perspective, was getting picked up from school in Grandpa’s semi. Talk about bragging rights? Best. Ride. Ever!

A final perk of Grandpa’s job was having first dibs on an assortment of items Macy’s no longer needed for displays or window dressings. The most memorable of these was a 2-seat, 9’ high, self-propelled Ferris Wheel. It was something no one had ever heard of, much less gotten to keep in her backyard. Sure, when we rode it, the weight difference between my older sister and me sent me flying over the top and occasionally out of my seat. I couldn’t help thinking as I lay on the hard ground waiting for my “wind” to return, just how lucky we were to own something so fun.

It was from bits of these Macy’s castoffs that the stove lamp came to be. The first piece was a miniature wrought-iron stove/oven straight out of Little House on the Prairie days. The circular disc on the stove were removable with a special silver handle, and the oven door opened to reveal two small lumps of coal inside.

I don’t know what inspired Grandpa to turn this toy stove into a lamp base. Maybe his imagination ran wild during all that time behind the wheel. In any case, Grandpa co-opted the scrollwork from a wrought-iron baker’s rack, and with some sawing here and welding there, he fashioned the neck of his lamp. The wiring and lampshade were nothing to write home about, but the plastic piece he chose to shield the bulbs with turned out to be the most valuable part of the whole works. Why? Because it’s not just ordinary plastic, apparently. It’s Bakelite. And as any “Antiques Roadshow” aficionado will tell you, Bakelite is collectible. It was the first synthetic plastic, so it’s very retro chic. Though I am not an antique collector myself (I can never get past the musty smell of death and pee), I am very proud of my plastic bowl-shaped lamp cover.

The stove lamp lived on the marble-topped end table in my Grandparents’ living room for the entirety of my childhood, and it never failed to draw my attention. While Grandma sipped black coffee and watched Phil Donahue in her rocking chair nearby, I would spend the morning pretend-cooking on the stove. Years later, when the Donahue crowd had moved on to Oprah for advice, the stove lamp still sat on the end table as it always had. My daughters, taken in by its wrought-iron loveliness, miniature charm, and many moveable parts, were equally intrigued by the stove lamp.

When the time came for Grandma to move to an apartment and pare down her belongings, she asked me if there was anything of hers that I would like to have. As you can probably guess, I asked for her jewelry.

Kidding. Of course, I asked for the stove lamp, and Grandma was happy to give it. We both looked on as my uncle pulled pieces from a box and reassembled the lamp in my home. I clapped my hands in excitement, and with a goofy grin, kept telling my husband stove lamp details he’d heard many times before.

“Honey, look! It’s the lamp! I used to play with it all the time as a little girl! Look! It’s got a little bin for the coal and has real pieces of coal!”

“Yay,” he said, with a notable lack of enthusiasm.

“Aren’t you excited about the stove lamp?” I questioned with my best puppy dog expression.

“Are we going to keep it out after your grandma leaves?” he whispered in my ear.

“Of course!” I whispered fiercely back, incensed by his blasphemy, “It’s the stove lamp!”

There was no denying this, so my husband wisely let the matter—and the stove lamp—be.

 Now, it sits on a wooden end table, waiting to inspire the imaginations of another generation. My husband sits nearby wondering what else he will have to tolerate for love. God knows. Donahue and Oprah probably know too.


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