The light above them, through the generations


We label Israel “a lamp unto the nations” and light our homestead candles for memory, for the sanctity of the Sabbath, on holy days.  

For our private and personal dwellings, we purchase fixtures in electrical supply shops against the dark, or they come with the house.  

Since my boyhood family was in the home furnishings business, we on occasion changed the overhead bulbs and their glass cases more or less for the fun of it.

Remember when the bulbs were shaped to look like flames? I liked that design. But such alterations in decorations more often than not upset me as a boy. I had a thing about it. I wanted everything to stay the same, fixed and permanent…eternal, even.  

My mother, had a livelier and more creative interest in modern ideas, reflecting the times in which we were living. So She had the old-fashioned amber, sepia, beige, and somewhat somber, ceiling chandelier with its coppery fittings removed from above the dining-room table, and installed a crystal and silver model to brighten up the chamber.  

She bought a sterling tea service and new dishes, and put the original art deco brass branches holding the large bulbs up in the attic.  

There it remained for about six decades. If I mounted the stairs to the crawl space, I might stare down at the crate holding the frayed wires, the glass containers for the bulbs, the chain and the finials.  Until one day, it caught the eye of my new son-in-law, who had a taste for moving things upstairs to the attic and down to the basement of his in-laws’ home.  

My daughter asked if she might take the carton over the R.I. border to their place in Brookline, Mass. I said, okay, and away it went. But they did nothing at all with their acquisition for a number of years, and so I suggested they return my gift. I had found the perfect place for it: my new college office. It would look quite appropriate and add a touch of stern splendor over my large desk.  It would suit my professorial library realm, my salon, my parlor for students and colleagues, perfectly.  

I made my request a few times and then gave up.  ,Recently, my son-in-law showed me, on his pocket camera, a photo of what had become of my inheritance.  

He had taken it to a repair studio and asked the proprietor to polish off the patina, thus releasing a bright golden hue before he planned to install it grandly before the fireplace of their hearth and home, which was undergoing restoration.  

“No, you must keep it just as it is or you will destroy its unique beauty and meaning,” the proprietor had told him.  

He took it to another store, where he received the  same good advice.  He accepted the counsel, left it as it was, and put it up.

And so, there it is! It looks just right, central in the rather elegant formal living room, where my three little granddaughters read their books among the paintings on the walls, the flickering flames in the grate, and the conversation of guests and relatives. It makes a pretty picture for a visiting grandfather.  

The paintings were taken from the house on the other side of our family, and the single thing that represents my own long-gone parents’ domestic days is the light above them, a metaphor of blessing overlooking the scenery beneath.  Not a lamp unto the nations, but instead a legacy lamp unto the little ones.    

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.