Life in the Old West

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Harsh winter brings memories of Grandma’s kerosene lamp


Winter’s snows and ice storms around here always bring back memories of my Grandma’s kerosene lamp, or I should say kerosene lamps, because she had several in her small apartment that were left over from her and grandpa’s decades on their old farm.

If you’ve been getting smacked around by the many snowstorms, ice storms, and near-blizzards that have been sweeping across the Southern Plains into the Northeast this year, you probably appreciate the “wise old ways” of the kerosene lamp days. Namely, a good old-fashioned kerosene lamp stored away for winter can keep glorious light and even wonderful heat around in your home when the weather snuffs out “newfangled” power sources like electricity and sometimes even steady flows of natural gas.

A kerosene lamp these days can be used with a variety of fuels — THOUGH YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE VERY CAREFUL AND BE SAFE,, always check with a reputable dealer or someone who knows about the kerosene lamps you have and the way they work; some fuels are safe for these lamps and others might literally blow up your house or poison you on the fumes.

But getting back to grandma’s lamps, I believe they were the old-fashioned wick lamps which had a cloth or hemp (not sure what the material was) wick that stuck up from a reservoir of kerosene (I don’t know what TYPE of kerosene it was; this was in the 1950s and it was “kerosene.”) and you could adjust the height of the wick. You lit the wick with a nasty smelling match, it burned, and as it burned (setting inside a glass mantle, I guess you would call it) down, the physics involved would pull more kerosene up into the wick and into the flame.

There was a distinct “oily” smell, as I recall, when Grandma cranked up the kerosene lamps, but I don’t recall that it was really nasty, nor do I recall much smoke. I do remember, however, dozing off on those chilly Nebraska winter evenings as I watched shadows dance on the wall where the dim light of the lamp cast them. Used to pretend many things watching those shadows, from pirates and kings to cowboys and campfires.

We’ve suffered through a major ice storm or two in recent years in the Missouri Ozarks, and we’ve lost heat and light in the process. Makes me wish I had Grandma’s old kerosene lamp or a modern equivalent of it to take the dark and chill away when such storms strike.

May you always have light and heat in the winter, and may you be safe through every storm — with or without Grandma’s old kerosene lamp!