Thursday, January 9, 2014


During the recent holiday season I had two of my daughters visiting. The oldest went off to spend a few days with another sister in Ohio, so the youngest, Lis, and I did some little chores--what a friend of mine calls knicky-knacky stuff. In fact, Lis insisted on helping me--she likes doing little stuff around the house. (Really.)

One of the tasks on my never-ending list was changing light bulbs. Over a period of several months I've noticed some rooms seem quite a bit dimmer when I press the wall switch. Obviously bulbs had burned out.

Now Lis is several inches taller than I (not because she's grown taller lately, but because I've shrunk--that's another story), so she could reach the center ceiling fixtures from a two-step stool. If I'd been doing this job alone, I'd have brought in my six-foot stepladder. But I had a helper this time, and I smiled at the thought of leaving the stepladder in the garage.

Here's the setting: My house was built in the 1950s--remember that time? Nice middle-class 3-bedroom ranch houses, arranged in groups. This was undoubtedly an upscale type area: every house is different. There's no trouble finding mine--its the one with limestone on the front and a faux gas light beside the driveway. Only one like it on the one-block-long street.

For those readers not familiar with a typical 50s ranch-style house, the architecture has certain distinguishing features fairly common across the genre:
  • plastered walls, often with swirls or other creative shapes worked by the plasterer
  • big picture windows in front
  • carpeted floors; if no carpet, then tile floors (especially in kitchens and baths)
  • carports or attached garages (mine is attached)
  • patios on the back
  • centered ceiling light fixtures in most rooms
Those centered ceiling light fixtures are the main character in this post. The fixtures are also circa 1950-something. They require a well-balanced person who can raise two strong hands above shoulder level: one hand holds the big round (or square) heavy glass fixture while the other hand unscrews the knob that holds the whole thing together while it's suspended above a table or bed or badly placed chair.

So we developed our procedure:
  • move whatever piece of furniture is directly below the ceiling fixture
  • place stepstool under fixture
  • Lis climbs on the stool, removes the knob and hands Mom the glass fixture
  • Mom washes the fixture and dries it, lays it aside
  • Lis requests Mom turn on the light so dead bulbs can be located
  • Lis requests Mom turn off the light so daughter doesn't go blind while trying to remove dead bulb(s)
  • Lis hands dead bulb(s) to Mom
  • Mom receives dead bulb(s) and hands up new one(s)
  • new bulb(s) inserted in sockets
  • Mom hands up clean, dried fixture
  • Lis installs fixture and replaces the knob that holds everything in place
  • Lis comes down from stepstool, furniture returned to its former place
  • move on to next room and repeat previous 12 steps
I count 13 steps in that process. I may have lumped a few together and probably forgot something important. Oh, yes--turn on the light switch and admire the blinding light from the formerly dim ceiling fixture.

Remember the old joke? How many _____ does it take to change a light bulb? In my house, it takes one Mom, one daughter, and 13 (or more) steps.

That's for one room. We had four to go.

You'll recall Lis said she likes doing little stuff around the house. I'm afraid our all-day session of little stuff has probably caused her to reconsider her casual remark.

I'm sorry if she now finds little stuff around the house not quite her thing. For my part, rooms are well-lit and my eyes aren't straining to read small print. (Though the dust does show up really well. Hmm.) Then I remember, this one "small" task on my list would have taken me at least four days, one day per room. A lot of effort goes into those 13 steps when done alone--breaks for tea, coffee, or a glass of wine (usually about room 3); dog out, dog in, dog fed, dog petted; and a little creative cussing when I almost drop the glass shade for the light or take out the wrong bulb or forget to turn the light switch to OFF before I climb the ladder. (Remember the 6-foot ladder? For short people?)

So if Lis decides to mark bulb changing off her list for the future, I know I can manage by myself. But I have several dozen boxes of books and other miscellany in the garage just begging to be sorted. I'll invite her for a visit this summer.


  1. I thought another criterium (sp.) for those overhead lights--we once lived in a circa-WW2 3-bedroom ranch house--was that no one actually USED them, so the bulbs never burned out. Except in the kitchen, of course.

  2. Guess I'm too young to know that! ;-) Thanks for stopping by, Liz.