Arkansas Lamplight

plate 1. A kerosene lamp glints in the setting sun. Photo taken in the window of the General Store, Mountain Village 1890, atop Bull Shoals Cavern, Bull Shoals, Arkansas.

Lamplight Memories

By Beverly Joy VAughn

Last weekend, my sister Tamara and I had gone down home, Newton County, Arkansas, for a visit and Mommie gave me one of her old kerosene lamps. Tonight I got it out, along with two others I already had, filled all of them up, ready to light and kick back and watch TV. I put one of my old ones in my bedroom… oh, how I’d forgotten the warm glow that a lamp casts on a room.

I was flooded by memories of my childhood… of going to the cellar with Daddy and Mommie, my brothers and sister. Sitting in that cellar as a thunderstorm raged outside, the rock walls of the cellar glistening with the trails left by snails as they made their slow and tedious journey across the stone walls. In the flickering lamp light with the shadows playing in the darker corners where the light just didn’t quite reach, the snail trails looked like veins of silver as they danced and shimmered there on the cellar walls and log ceiling.

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plates 2, 3, 4. Top, a nail, hammered in place ages ago to hold a lamp, still protrudes from the limestone of Bull Shoals Caverns. Middle, Bull Shoals Cavern, illuminated as a show cave, looks like just the plcae one could find a booger of some sort. Above, “a pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris). Their call has been described as a ‘rising snore.’” — Ben Dalton, herpetologist

I can close my eyes and hear the hushed tone of Daddy’s voice as he would tell us ‘bear tails’, stories of when he was a kid and young man. Most of them were enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck and on top of your head. What an audience we must’ve been, sitting there, barely breathing, eyes wide, waiting for whatever ‘booger’ was just about to jump out at us from his story.

I can remember the cot that was in the corner. If the storm turned out to be a long one, a couple of us kids would sleep there and mommie and daddy would ‘nus’ or hold the other two on their laps. Usually the younger ones got the laps and me and my oldest brother got the cot.

The smell of the air just before a rain still reminds me of the way the cellar would smell.

Daddy had a blue kerosene lantern that we’d use to get from the house to the cellar, we didn’t have flashlights when I was small. Once we got to the cellar, then Mommie would light a couple of kerosene lamps. One of them was one that her parents had owned and used years before.

The other memory that comes fresh to my mind is of going to Mommie’s parents, my Grandpa and Grandma Self’s when I was young.

Arkansas Lamplight

plate 5. A formal table set in the then-well-to-do Lynch-Flippin House, originall located in Flippin, Arkansas. Now part of the Mountain Village 1890 collection.

For a long time they didn’t have electricity and used kerosene lamps in the house for light.

I remember it was the same glow that I saw tonight in my own bedroom, warm and like it was almost inviting a hush to fall over the room. That’s one of the things I remember about being at Grandpa and Grandma’s… when anyone was talking it always seemed to be in a quiet tone of voice, almost a murmur... hardly loud enough to hear unless you were really close to the person talking.

And when we went to bed Grandma and Mommie would always ‘put us to bed’. Mommie would tuck us in and Grandma would have the lamp. I wonder if that went back to Grandma being ‘the Mommie’ and Mommie being ‘her little girl’. I never remember Mommie having the lamp, always Grandma. And when they’d leave the room the light would dance away, slowly recede and the shadows from the corners would move out to steadily envelope the room in total darkness. There were no night-lights, only the moon outside to cast any light inside the house once the ‘lights were put out’.

Such good memories I’ve re-lived this evening by simply lighting a lamp. Sweet memories that brings tears to my eyes. Both grandparents and daddy are gone now, the cellar is unsafe but the lantern and the lamps are still being used, still casting their warm, welcoming glow around those that I love and that love me…

I am so very blessed.

If you have a lamp, dig it out and join me!

Arkansas Lamplight

plate 6. Last moments of sun fade in the general store, still warm from another long, hot summer afternoon.

Written November 13, 2009

Published April 29, 2015

Lamplight Memories: State of the Ozarks

Photos courtesy of StateoftheOzarks. Taken by Joshua Heston, Bull Shoal Cavern & Mountain Village 1890, August 14, 2014.

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