After sharing the book “This is the Rope” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome (whom I met 17 years ago and whose illustrations are rich with detail) with my fourth grade students recently, I asked them to create blog entries about a special object or tradition that has special meaning to them and is one that they could pass down to future generations. The book shares stories of how the rope was used during the family’s journey from South Carolina to New York City during The Great Migration in the early 1900′s through the 1960′s. As an historical fiction piece of literature, I found it to be a perfect jumping off place to launch into writing. Students went to their computers in the Computer Lab where I teach, opened their blogs inside of the Gaggle web platform that my district uses and began writing. A few of them had some difficulty getting started but for the most part, they ran with the assignment. Some objects that were written about included a Bible, a father’s shirt with his favorite college on it, a necklace given by a grandmother, an XBox, and many others. I gave suggestions to students who could not immediately think of a topic and encouraged them to write about an object that they enjoyed using now.
I decided later that it would be a good writing exercise to write about an object that was special to me and one that I would want to pass down to my children. Although I have objects that will always be associated with fond memories throughout my life, I decided to choose a unique glass lamp that has been in my family already for two generations. I did not know at first which object to choose so I called my mother who lives in another urban town. It was nice to be able to talk about the topic of a special object over with her because she suggested the glass lamp. I realized that talking as a way of rehearsing is powerful and will plan to have my student bloggers rehearse by talking about topics in the future before having them compose after just giving the assignment.
My mother lived in a rural town as a child in the 1940′s. The houses on her dirt road did not receive electricity until the late 1940′s. In order to read at night, her family would light their three glass lamps filled with kerosene. The cloth wick would absorb the kerosene causing it to immediately ignite when a lit match touched the wick. The flame would rise into the long glass cylinder emitting a warm, glowing light. By this light, my mother learned to read. The lamp is special because my grandparents used it to light their house then my mother also used it as she read by its light when she was a child.
One of these lamps now sits in my parent’s house having been passed down to her from her parents. As a child I remember seeing it sitting on display above a cabinet. My parents lit it a couple of times when our power went out when I was growing up. I remember being excited to see the light, but also a bit alarmed if the flame rose too tall in the glass chamber. My dad would turn down the knob which would cause the tall flame to shorten, but still provide a warm glow to the room. The inner glass surface seemed a bit charred with a brownish hue from the flame scorching it. It was always an object that had to be used with great care. Since we had electricity when I grew up, I didn’t see it used often, but knew that it was always there.
This special lamp was a tool that allowed my mother to become a reader, but interestingly enough, I just realized when I called her to rehearse writing ideas that my mother learned to read by its light. She told me about her reading by its light when I called her and talked about the object that I would choose to write about. I have viewed it mainly as a relic of the past and valued it due to it belonging to my grandparents. The lamp has a greensish color in the glass basin that holds the kerosene and demands attention when you walk into the room where it now sits on a chest of drawers. It has taken on new meaning as I associate my mother’s literacy development as a child with it. Because she learned to read and valued books, she and my dad always read aloud to me as a child. Often, we would be sitting in the same room reading where the lamp was located back then. So, in essence, this lamp witnessed my literacy development too.
I will one day inherit this lamp and share the stories with my own children of how this lamp illuminated our family’s history. My mother valued teachers so highly in her small town, one room schoolhouse. She encouraged me to be a teacher because of the value she saw her community place on the role of the teacher. Doing her reading homework given by her teachers by the light of the lamp, laid the foundation for not only her life, but also for mine.
As I did a Google Advanced Search for kerosene lamps to find a suitable image that was “free to use, share or modify”, I noticed a Foundation called the “Kerosene Lamp Foundation”. It turns out that it was started by a former NBA player who studied by the light of a kerosene lamp on the island of St. Vincent when he was a child because at that time, it did not have electricity. I don’t know much about this foundation, but liked how the “About” page described his vision and the significance of its name. The kerosene lamp is a symbol to the player, Adonal Foyle, of “his mission to brighten the futures of today’s youth”. Such a great connection to my special object! Here is the link the the “About” page of the Kerosene Lamp Foundation: