By Tom Poland
You probably think an ordinary light bulb is boring in this era of LED lights. Well, the ordinary light bulb holds a special place in my memories. Our family visited my grandparents a lot of Sundays. That meant a trip to Mom’s family in the Beulah Community of Lincoln County.
Back then, we didn’t have handheld digital devices like iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, pads, and tablets. Our handheld devices were cane poles, slingshots, dolls, and arrowheads. Back then, we didn’t have TVs everywhere either. We had our imagination, which brings me to that light bulb, which will forever brighten my life.
How well I remember the light bulb on my grandparent’s front porch. Their country home no longer stands. It burned in 1964, but that bulb stands tall in my memory. It was magical. On Sundays, a gaggle of my cousins and I would stand beneath that light and stare at it. If we said a magic phrase I cannot recall, sticks of Beechnut Juicy Fruit chewing gum fell from the light. Sister, Brenda, thinks someone tossed sticks of gum up to the bulb, but I’m competitive and I stared hard. I would have seen the gum going up then coming down. Gum came straight from the front porch ceiling.
You can’t imagine how those sticks of gum thrilled me. I could see them falling. It wasn’t like the tooth fairy, which operates under the cover of darkness. All the kids got a stick so the gum fairy had a sense of fair play and lots of Juicy Fruit chewing gum fell from a hole in the bead board ceiling where that light hung. The sticks would sometimes hit the bulb, and bounce into our waiting hands. To this day I see the bright yellow, silver foil sticks tumbling in eastern Georgia light. Brenda remembers quarters falling from the light as well, though it might have been nickels. Money was scarce.
I never knew who climbed into that attic, but I’ll put my money on Uncle Carroll. He was lithe and small and could have easily slipped into the attic. The magic phrase we uttered was Uncle Carroll’s cue to act. As for a supply of gum, that was no problem. Granddad Walker’s country store with its penny candies and chewing gum was twenty yards away across the sandy front yard Mom and her sisters swept with a bresh broom Saturdays.
Here’s another story about a magical light bulb. Mom said that the first electric light came into the area caused quite a stir. Rural electrification was arriving and a neighbor had that miraculous, magical first light bulb. Folks would come from all over and sit and stare at it so long they got pink eye. I can see that happening. The jump from kerosene lamp to light bulb was akin to the jump from horse to Model T. I’d have stared too. So would’ve you.
Yes, there was a time when light bulbs seemed magical, but we’re so spoiled and jaded today nothing thrills us. Alexa answers our questions and turns lights on and off. Nothing seems magical, not even shiny new iPads and flatscreens, but I smile when I think of Uncle Carroll in that attic dropping coins and gum to my cousins and me. Having a bit of magic in our life? It made for a lifelong memory.
Tom’s work appears in publications throughout the South. His books include South Carolina Country Roads, Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II. He writes about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and culture. He’s member of the SC Humanities Speaker’s Bureau. Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom for his body of work on South Carolina. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Georgia. He lives in Irmo, South Carolina.