Monday, August 22, 2011

If You Can't Change a Lightbulb

We always lived in apartments when I was growing up, but my father had dreams.

“One day, kids, we’ll move to the suburbs. We’ll have a little garden. Maybe even some chickens.”

When my mother heard this she made that special sound of hers. I can’t spell it. There aren’t the right letters in our alphabet to spell it. If I had to try, it would start with a ha sound. But it wasn’t ha. It was more disappointed than ha. It was ha with a sigh thrown in. And some exasperation, too. 

My father didn’t like that sound.

“What?” he asked, ”what makes you say it won’t happen?” “I didn’t say anything.” “You said plenty.” 

Dad was right, that ha of hers did say plenty. It said we were never going to live in the suburbs. We’d never put our hands in the dirt of a garden. There would be no tomatoes or peas or lettuce to pick for dinner. There would definitely not be chickens to do whatever a person did with chickens.

And here’s why:

My father couldn’t change a light bulb.

If you can’t change a light bulb, you can’t live in a house in the suburbs with a garden and chickens.

If you can’t change a light bulb it means you have to live your whole life in an apartment building where there is a super and a super’s assistant — men you call up when the light bulb blows and they arrive within the hour, with a ladder and a flashlight and a new bulb. They carry toolboxes and they not only know the name of each tool but they know how to use them. They have wrenches and screwdrivers and they carry nails in their pockets and hammers hang from special loops on their belts.

My father didn’t know from hammers. He was entirely dependent on the super and his assistant. And not only for the light bulb situation but also for leaky faucets and running toilets and — God forbid — what if water comes in through the window when it rains? What if the thermostat breaks? What if a ceiling tile falls down? What if the refrigerator gets too cold, or too hot, or stops working completely?

Unexpected disasters lurk around every corner. Not everyone can handle them on their own. That is why my family was doomed to a life of apartment dwelling. 

That’s what my mother meant by that ha of hers, that was so much more than a ha. Dad couldn’t change a light bulb.There would be no fresh-from-the-earth food for us; no eggs from a chicken; no milk from a cow.

Wait a minute, wait minute, who said anything about a cow? 

Well, a girl can have dreams, can’t she?

I learned that from my father.