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©January 2001

Carol Jane Remsburg


Daddy and the Lights
















Daddy was born June 19th, 1929—just before the advent of the Great Depression.  If there ever was a man born to frugality, it was him.  Don't get me wrong, Daddy wasn't above splurging on his kids or his family and friends, but it was rare he ever did for himself.  And when it came to certain things concerning day-to-day life in our family then his vision could be very narrow indeed.


When I was three, the family settled into the house I would grow up in.  To me it was a great house with plenty of room—although it had certain drawbacks.  It was Daddy who figured out the ways in which this house could work without too many major changes—thus saving money by not expending it.  The house was one of many built just after WWII.  It was sizeable enough but had flaws that when the '60s and '70s arrived grew glaringly apparent.  Everything ate electricity!


The boondoggle of a house only had a 60-amp service to it.  Therefore running the dishwasher and the dryer or the air conditioner in the den at the same time was sure to blow a fuse.  Only one could run—no exceptions could be made because the system in the house was unforgiving.  Push it and it blew.  There wasn't a soul in the house that didn't know to shut one off before starting the other—no matter how old you were.  When we blew a fuse, we also knew how to reset it and quickly before someone found out what we'd done. 


With the dryer on the same circuit as the water heater, the same could be said.  Yet if the dryer wasn't running and that big plug wasn't changed then the clothes were taken out—somebody got a mighty cold shower.  Guess who it usually was?


The damp cellar had wire hung for hanging clothes during the winter months and we tended not to use the dryer at all if we could get away with it.  That was until my sisters got into their teens and then everything had to be dried in the dryer and line dried clothes, either inside or out, became not only passé but damaging to the reputation.  We only had so many clothes and their stylish ones were minimal and worn with regularity.


Daddy was of the soft-spoken sort.  He was sweet and gentlemanly.  He was knowledgeable and kind and loving.  However living with four other females and only one bathroom in the house, things weren't ever easy for him.  When he did manage a bit of privacy in the privy to find the water in the shower frigid—singing from the shower wasn't what we heard.  It sounded more like a bull moose with blood in his eye to me.  If you were at all ambulatory, you fled the house by the fastest means possible.  We were lucky; his ire wasn't the kind that lasted for very long. 


As we all adored him, we all tried very hard to keep those experiences limited.  Usually though, he would be last in line in the morning for a shower and got the short-end of the hot water anyway.  It was a good thing he tended toward those military style showers.  As teens, we girls would shower until the warmth was gone.  He hated that and nagged us to no end about it.


However, if there was a bugaboo in Daddy's soul, it was over the lights in the house.  If you left a room, all electrical appliances and lights should be out.  It drove him nuts over the fact that we could exit our bedrooms with lights and radios alive while sauntering into the living room or the den to plop down and watch some TV. 


Daddy would and could let us slide on many things, but on this issue he gave no quarter.  His frown would be intense.  I couldn't stand it.  I would try and fail again and again over the light issue just as my sisters did.  It would be years later that this same quirk would come to haunt me.  I had finally learned what he wanted me to learn.  Waste is expensive.  A watchful eye and a few seconds of thought costs you nothing.


For years Daddy would patrol the house over the lights and the appliances in every room where no one was using them.  Off they went one by one and his proclamations were short and often to himself he thought.  Usually one didn't need the lecture, just the look.


Of course we had heard the requisite tales of "When I was growing up" from both Mom and Dad.  And although Mom had suffered a tad harder in her youth, Daddy's tale over the frozen glass of water on his nightstand always stuck with me.  Privation was something both my parents had known.  And while they didn't wish us to suffer it, they also wanted us to appreciate things on a basic level.  Growing up, none of us reflected on it or really cared.  Their teachings came home later on—when I had my own bills to pay.


Every fall I close up the vents beneath the house.  I have my heating system inspected and tweaked into fine tune.  I cringe whenever I have to use the dryer in the worst of winter weather rather than having nature do it outdoors.  When the air conditioning runs in the summer I'm sure to set it at 80o while shutting all the blinds to help keep the house cool.  The same follows in winters as I open the blinds, but I'll keep it at 72o because hubby and daughter will freeze if I push it lower. 


Then there are the lights.  Every appliance and light that is running and not being used is ruthlessly turned off.  I pace the house and check the perimeter in intervals.  My husband and daughter don't seem to understand.  The lights cost little but it's that carry-over from childhood that's difficult to break.  Often I do this without conscious thought.  It's just something I do.


My daughter is hosted with things I couldn't even dream of as a child, all her desires are met if I can manage them.  Still it's that conspicuous consumption of energy that unnerves me.


About the only thing I will gift myself is one of hot water and that long shower.  Oh, I know it costs and I apologize often to Daddy for it.  That's my bugaboo.  If Daddy were still here, he'd just shake his head and smile.  The world's certainly changed since his time, but not all that much.  The lights still get turned off in my house.



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