Joanna Lee and Sindee Ernst

upon much reflection, Joanna Lee

Lightolier, Sindee Ernst
inspiration piece

I headed to my first year of college with an electric typewriter, a trunk full of clothing, and a bulky white metal and plastic Lightolier floor lamp.  I did not want to bring the lamp, but my mother was firm.  “For your eyes,” she insisted.  My mother was not a nag, but she could sniff out a person reading without enough light.  Turn on a light, you’ll ruin your eyes, was the refrain of my childhood.

The word Lightolier was spoken with a combined air of reverence and familiarity in my house.  We knew the Lightolier family personally.  Or more precisely, some relative of ours was friendly with them from long ago, before they had made a name for themselves in the world of illumination.  I often heard them referred to as “the Lightoliers,” and I believed that Lightolier was their last name.

That was the familiarity.  The reverence came from the quality and perfection of design exhibited by Lightolier lamps; the only ones my mother believed were worthy of our purchasing power.  The model that populated my home (every bedroom and every desk had one) was the reading lamp.  The standing version of this design rested on a heavy, round, solid metal base with a white metal tube that stretched up and curved over like the neck of a bird.  At the end of the curve was a large cylindrical shade made of thick white plastic.  The culminating feature of the lamp was its socket, designed for a 200-watt light bulb.  Enough light to convince my mother that all of the eyes in our house were sufficiently protected.  If Lightolier produced any other designs, I did not know it.

The lamp that traveled to college with me was like a security blanket that had long been at my side.  Standing faithfully by my bed, it shed light on my nighttime reading as far back as I could remember, from thin books with large print to the massive hardback copy of Little Women that was so heavy I had to place it on my bed and rest on my side to read it under those 200 watts of light.  I knew the feel of the lamp’s heat and the way it made the fur on my stuffed animals smell slightly scorched.  I knew the weight of the metal base and how far I could tilt it before letting go so it would come back to rest again, and the way the grate on the top of the shade, also made of heavy plastic, got dirtier than the rest of the lamp.  I also knew how the shade melted when it got too hot from being close to another object.  We had a collection of melted shades, but that did not shake our faith or keep us from ordering new ones.  No other lamp would do.

In the cramped quarters of my freshman dorm room I was uncertain of where to place the lamp –  by my bed or angled over my desk –  so I moved the furniture around until it could stand comfortably between the two.  Although I had photographs on a bulletin board, a few favorite books, and posters on my walls, it was the lamp that made it home for me.  Every time I turned it on I heard my mother’s warning about my eyes, and I knew that no matter where I was in that room, she would be satisfied with the lighting.

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