The art of carrying the lantern
March 22, 2010
Lanterns and lamps were used before electricity came to rural areas. On the farm a lantern was a much needed item in getting errands and chores done after dark. Trips to the cave for canned goods and countless trips to the outhouse with children.
Lanterns came in large and small sizes. It was a brave lad with his own little red lantern all aglow and the family dog that found his way through the dark night to the outhouse.
Sometimes turned low, the little lantern burned all night in the room of a sick child.
Children often carried the lantern when the call came for light to help father. With the lantern plenty large for the child to carry, there came the art of carrying it just right. With Dad’s hands full of buckets, from granary to trough, to counting baby pigs or tending sick calves, a child was a great companion to help light the way.
Farmers hayed horses and cattle, scooped off ear corn from wagons and many other jobs when short days of winter did not allow time enough to get work done by sunlight.
In the barns, lanterns were hung high to keep animals and people from bumping into them. Everyone learned at a young age the danger of starting fires from lanterns and lamps.
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On windy nights the gusty wind would cause the flame of the lantern to flicker, flare up and go out. There in the dark one tried to relight the wick by pushing down on the lever that held the wire cage the globe set in. We had to strike a match and try to find the wick with the lantern held in the shelter of one’s body. Sometimes, after struggling against the wind we gave up and stumbled in the darkness to a building out of the wind to re-light the wick.
Occasionally the globe became so blackened from soot, it required a trip to the house to wash the globe. Snow and rain spit, sputtered and sizzled on the warm globe.
People placed lanterns in boxes or buckets to protect the globe and hauled them along in the Model-T to visit friends. They might need to change a tire or open a gate when the moonlight had gone behind the clouds.
The wood box on the porch was usually refilled by lantern light from the woodpile when the heater and cook stove used up the supply of fuel used to heat the home.
As a child it wasn’t all work. At times it was like a movie, complete with monsters, weird sound and odd shapes. There were these images to entice the imagination and laughs that echoed through the night.
Farm animals made huge black shadows with tossing heads, stomping feet, glassy glaring eyes and steamy nostrils, plus weird moans and groans when the light disturbed their quiet slumber.
Animals frightened by the light ran like a stampede, snorting as they ran by us.
If you went into the hen house at night with the lantern to gather eggs, a rooster might crow thinking the sun was coming up.
On crisp cold winter nights walking some of the narrow shoveled paths in the snow, one could imagine being entertained by a field of diamonds, each twinkling more than the next as the lantern light showed off their sparkle and dance on the soles of our boots crunched out the walking rhythm.
People, who had to pick their way around the corrals and yards trying to avoid running into animals or becoming surrounded by them, learned to appreciate the art of carrying the lantern.