Maybe it was because he was born at the tail end of the Great Depression, or maybe because his first memories of being a United States citizen were during World War II; whatever the reason, my father was a very patriotic man. He liked everything American.
He proudly flew the American flag from a post near our front door.
He told me stories about Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter; stories that taught me lessons about honor, self-worth, hard work, and determination.
He told me stories about heroes who fought in World War II; to remind me about their valor and courage, he drew Kilroy on my lunch bags.
He loved John Wayne, Bridge on the River Kwai, M.A.S.H, and Ronald Reagan.
Thus, it was not a shock when in the late 1980s, the UPS driver pulled up to our house and dropped off not one, but two Statue of Liberty lamps.
“Why did you buy two?” we questioned.
“Someday, I will be gone, and you and your brother won’t have to fight over it. You will each get one,” he told me.
“That’s awesome, Dad.” I really didn’t mean it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t want it and that I doubted Ricky did, either. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I thought it was tacky. I was a teenager, and I was worried about what people thought. I wanted him to buy from Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel, not from some mail order catalogue.
He plugged it in, and his face lit up. “Just look at that.” He transformed into Darren McGavin plugging in the leg lamp in A Christmas Story. His expression was pure delight, and within his eyes I saw pure unadulterated pride. “This will be a conversation piece. You’ll see.”
That’s what I was afraid of.
He displayed the lamps proudly. One was on the desk at our cottage, and the other was in the family room of our home. Each lamp was in a predominant location, so anyone entering either home would see it. He wasn’t wrong, people commented about the lamp all of the time.
“Wow, that’s one heck of a lamp,” they would say. Many times, I questioned their tone. Did I sense a hint of sarcasm or did they mean it? I had my suspicions about many of the remarks said about the lamp. However, my father never did. He was more than happy to explain its importance.
“Yeah, you like it? I saw it and I knew I had to buy it. I actually bought two. We have another one at the other house. ” As he talked about it, he got the same look in his eyes that he had the day he took it out of the box.
“Two, really?” was usually the reaction. A raised eye brow and a slight disbelief would resonate in the visitor.
“Yep, I bought two. Someday, I will be gone, and I want Cheryl and Rick to each have one,” he would say.
After my parents died in 2006, my brother and I had an estate sale. They were gravely in debt, and we were trying to recoup some cash to put toward bills. Of course, as we went through their belongings, we separated the momentos and treasures that had sentimental value to us.
“What do we do about the lamps?” Rick asked me. We were in the livingroom of their home staring at one of the lamps. We were both silent for a long time. We could not deny that these lamps were purchased nearly twenty years earlier with the intention that when this happened, when our parents died, we would each take one. We felt obligation, responsibility, and guilt.
“We really need to sell all we can,” I rationalized.
“Yeah, we do,” he agreed. I felt we were both trying to justify being terrible children.
“Okay, let’s put them up for sale. If they don’t sell, we will each take one home.”
Satisfied, each of the lamps were reasonably priced, and we thought that surely other people would see these lamps as jewels just like our father did. However, it takes a special eye to see beauty, true beauty, and not a single person who attended our sale saw these lamps as beautiful.
Thus, we each took one home. I placed mine on a table in our rec room. When I went to turn it on, it didn’t work. I checked the bulb. It was fine. I checked the outlet; it worked, too. I monkeyed around turning the switch on and off. After all of the turmoil this lamp caused my guilty psyche, I really wanted to use it and it was broken.
“That’s a shame,” Tom said. “It doesn’t work.”
I felt sadness. Real sadness. I finally accepted that my dad wanted me to have it, and now that it was here, I kind of liked it. It reminded me of his pride, his loyalty, his faithfulness. I realized it wasn’t tacky at all. It was unique. Tears welled in me eyes.
“I think I finally see what my dad saw in it. I can’t believe this is happening.” The guilt was beating down on me. Had I brought it home three weeks earlier, would it have worked then?
“Maybe your dad is punishing you,” Tom joked.
I didn’t think it was funny. I was thinking the same thing. My father was a determined man, and I have to believe he didn’t lose that quality in the after life. Knowing the way my dad held grudges and how sad he would get when we disappointed him, he was probably mad at me for trying to sell it.
I needed to walk away. Turning the corner leaving the room, I looked at it one more time. This is not an exaggeration or a lie; the lamp turned on.
Tom looked at me in disbelief. “Hey, your dad’s not mad anymore,” he said to me.
For the second time in five minutes, I felt like I was about to cry. This time, though, it was out of love. I felt a sudden warmth in my heart.
I looked up at the ceiling, smiling. “Thanks Dad. I love you.”