When I was in high school, I would occasionally drop by my grandmother’s house for a chat. As we sat in a cozy nook, the cylindrical lamp glowing beside her would invariably mesmerize me. I watched the foamy implosion of Niagara Falls on a 360-degree plastic-covered paper panorama illuminated from within.
I loved that lamp.
Recently, apropos of nothing, I thought of it. Such an absurd invention. Was it a souvenir? I’d never seen another one like it.
On etsy.com, I found a seller in Japan offering: 1955 Vintage Econolite Niagara Falls Motion Lamp. Roto-vue lamp light turns to make an impression of the water flowing with a nice effect. $160.00 plus shipping. There was even a YouTube video.
My grandmother passed away when I was in college, and there’s no way I would have inherited that lamp. I wouldn’t have wanted it back then (anything that didn’t fit in my backpack didn’t go). Not sure I’d even want it today.
Holding onto inherited things and mementos take work. I’ve seen a friend agonize over giving up a massive, hideous dining room set: She’d promised it would always stay in the family.
A coworker was devastated when a burglar took her great grandmother’s diamond ring and other irreplaceable estate pieces, although she never wore them.
Sometimes new lifestyle choices (and impossibly small efficiency apartments) do not allow for retaining such ancestral antiquities. Things get lost, sold, stored, stolen, broken, or just left behind. The next generation doesn’t always want old stuff when new is as close as the nearest Target.
But ultimately, it’s not the material possession; it’s the memory of the person that counts.
In the end, we may not have our mother’s china, but we do remember her pot roast. We don’t have our father’s fishing reel, but we can still smell the salt air on the jetty that summer.
Sure, we all wish we had held onto our Barbie or Star Wars toys when we see what they’re selling for on eBay. It turns out this Niagara Falls lamp is a kind of kitschy, iconic collectible for mid-century-modern maniacs today. To me, it’s a moment transported back in time when I didn’t make the cheerleading team, but I did get a part in the play. A special time when my grandmother listened, and I let it out.
Then we enjoyed a bowl of ice cream in a dainty Depression-era glass dish.