“There are places I’ll remember,— “In My Life,” recorded by The Beatles on their 1965 album, Rubber Soul.
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain.”
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“Can I take that to the front for you,” she asked, nodding toward the TV lamp tucked under my arm?
She was the antique shop proprietor. I guessed her to be a little younger than me, but that’s just about everyone these days.
“It looks just like the one my mom had,” I said, handing it to her with a smile. “In 1957. I was just nine, but memories remain like it was yesterday. Always said if I saw one, I would buy it.”
“What’s a TV lamp,” some may ask, even some as young as the antique shop lady.
TV lamps flourished as a phenomenon when televisions became common in homes during the early 50s. However, they were not like standard lamps because they lacked a shade, and their primary purpose was not to provide room lighting. Instead, the bulb was located behind the lamp’s body to cast a soft glow of light on the wall behind the television and a silhouette of the lamp toward the viewer.
They were born on the notion of diffusing light near the television, thereby preventing damaged eyesight from watching too much TV—a problem espoused by medical experts in the 1950s. But hey, it was a time when perils parents feared most put going blind from watching too much television second only to shooting an eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun. Or, heaven forbid, catching ringworms from the cat.
Since TV lamps occupied prominent places atop large floor model black-and-white televisions that were like furniture, the lamps quickly became decorative statements. Ceramic frogs, flamingos, seashells, swans, and suchlike. However, for some inexplicable reason, the most common lamp was a panther. Sleek, black, and poised in a stalking stance.
And that was mom’s TV lamp. A squared-off, gold-colored metal mesh base supported the ceramic cat and housed a planter in the bottom. Mom grew ivy under her panther offering the illusion that it might have been prowling the jungle while she watched Perry Mason.
I never forgot mom’s lamp. Nor the night when both her lamp and her heart were broken.
It happened during a move from the public housing apartments in Seymour where we lived out in West Texas until my parents bought a house just a few blocks away on E. Morris Street. I don’t remember what else was stacked in the back of the pickup truck. Maybe a couch, a coffee table, or something else. I just remember the truck hitting a bump, bouncing the panther out onto the pavement, shattering the ceramic figure and my mother’s heart.
That’s about all I remember about that incident. Probably because I was a child watching my mother cry as I helped her pick up the pieces off the dark street, Maybe it was a special gift. Perhaps she had saved money to buy it. Or even used her books of S&H Green Stamps from shopping at Clarence Wilbanks Market and Grocery on the Seymour downtown square. The place where the sign proclaimed “Steaks – Cut Em With a Fork”
Memories defining mom’s attachment to the panther are lost to time. But we all have memories of special moments, places, and things that remain. In my case, I’m not just a memory collector; I collect documentation. I have furniture that belonged to my grandparents. Some of mom’s salt and pepper shaker collection. Dad’s coin collection and his tools. My grandmother’s dishes and nick-nacks. Hey, I even have my grandparents’ 1957 Ford they bought brand new 66 years ago this month at Travis Battles Ford at the intersection of Quitman and Cypress Streets in downtown Pittsburg, Texas.
Every piece evokes a memory. A smile. A laugh. A tear. And every time that TV lamp crossed my mind over the years, I always thought, “If a day comes I ever see one like it, I’m going to buy it.”
That day dawned last Saturday.
“My mother had one like this, too,” the lady at the antique store said as she carefully wrapped it and placed it in a bag. She may have been younger than me, but I was impressed that even her mother had a panther TV lamp. “It brings back lots of memories,” she added.
Tonight, my 1953 vintage sleek black panther planter TV lamp is casting a soft glow on the wall under my flat-screen television mounted above it. I’m drafting memories into words, watching Perry Mason, and remembering how much mom treasured her TV lamp.
I’m also thinking now that I have a TV lamp, I can finally quit worrying about going blind from watching too much television.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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