A friend called a few days ago asking if I had a lantern she could borrow, not an unusual request from someone needing a light, but she had another purpose.
“Sure,” I told her. “Do you want one with batteries, a gas lantern or a kerosene lantern?”
“The old-fashioned kind,” was her response. “Kerosene.”
In any case, I was sure I had what she was looking for, and she was, too. I further learned it didn’t need to work; she didn’t plan to use it to light a room or anything of that sort. It was to be a prop for a talk she was giving a group of kids.
In that case I had just what she needed — a working kerosene lantern that I hadn’t used in years because a pinhole leak in the tank made it malodorous and messy, but if she was looking for an example of old-time lighting it fit the bill.
Collecting dust in a back room was a vintage Embury No. 2 Air Pilot that had belonged to my great-grandfather Wilber Hamilton. Family lore was that he carried it with him as a night watchman for a quarry not far from his home in North Springfield, walking to work (he didn’t drive). Great-grandpa died in 1962 just a few days shy of 90. The Embury company was founded in New York in 1908 and made the Air Pilot from 1939 to 1952, when the company sold to Dietz Manufacturing.
For my generation, Dietz was the name commonly associated with kerosene lanterns, but for great-grandpa Embury was the name brand.
All of that is compatible with family lore, and that vintage Embury is my sole tangible connection to Great-grandpa who brought our family from Indiana to Missouri almost 120 years ago.
Of course, none of that mattered to the friend who borrowed the lantern, but in my mind underscores its validity as a historic relic of lighting — the perfect example to share with today’s kids.
I could have loaned her any of my kerosene lanterns and lamps I keep on hand in case of power outages. I’ve had one little red lantern some 65 years. It still works, too, but never was great for finding cows in the persimmon groves on pitch-black nights. Another is of uncertain origin, but I think it was my dad’s, and the best of my four is a “new” model I bought about 30 years ago to use camping, rather than put up with the incessant hissing of my gas lantern.
Should other examples of bygone days be useful, I also have the well bucket I once used to draw water for house and livestock, as well as a crosscut saw I employed with my dad before he bought a chainsaw and the carbide lamp he carried coon hunting. I’d gladly lend those to the lantern lady, too, certain they would be returned unscathed and appreciated.
Though their greatest value to me is as connections to my past, I’d like to think those heirlooms might also serve to remind today’s kids, as well as ourselves, of the luxuries we enjoy today.
Now and then Mother Nature gives us a hand in teaching those lessons, when wind or ice storms darken our homes. Quickly we forget how dark are the nights without a light — even if only a flickering Embury Air Pilot No. 2.
Copyright 2024, James E. Hamilton; email email@example.com. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from the author.
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