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Life with Liz: Flashlight lessons

Life in a family of boys who are sticks and snails and puppy dog tails can be a rough life for the girls who are on occasion sugar and spice, and sometimes nice. The last few months have been especially down and dirty as we’ve dug into one home improvement project after another, and as our typical girls’ day out activities have been taboo. So, we invented “pedicures on the porch.” I love a good alliteration, and it has given us some much-needed fancy girl time.

This week’s edition got a late start, and by the time we were buffed and trimmed and ready for the polish, it was starting to get dark. Unwilling to turn on the porch lights and attract bugs to our party, I asked E to hold my flashlight, which in this day and age is, of course, my phone.

Pretty soon, my light bearer was also trying to play Angry Birds, and was busy reading my incoming texts. Not only was she being a snoop, but she was not doing the best job holding the light. As the minute amount of relaxation I’d mustered drained out of me in a millisecond, and as the process was prolonged, all the while it was getting darker, I may have snapped a little bit harshly.

And, just like that, I was transported back to a dark and stormy night in the barn, with my dad, helping to deliver lambs. Yes, I opened my mouth and my dad came out. Full blast. Meanwhile, the Wonderful Husband sat over on his lounger laughing his head off. “Holding a flashlight for your parents is a very finely tuned skill that every child should have,” he explained to E.

The house that I grew up in had a portion of it that was built before electricity. It was a given that any job that needed to be done in that part of the house would require much more than the ambient light. It was also a given that any time there was a farm complication, it would happen in the middle of the night. Combine that with the typical places like under cars and sinks and attics, and all the other places where the sun doesn’t shine, and my childhood was full of flashlight holding opportunities.

And, after all these years, I finally understand why, in the middle of delivering a lamb, in the middle of a rather unsanitary barn, after having done who knows what with his hands, my dad would finally give up, grab the flashlight, and hold it between his teeth. Yes, I finally understood that level of frustration. It didn’t even take me a life or death situation to get it, painting 9-year-old toes was enough.

Growing up, we had a stash of “Bethlehem Steel special” flashlights. They were yellow and black and heavy duty enough to fall into a water bucket or two and keep on ticking. They were everywhere in our house. Unfortunately, the batteries needed to keep them functional were few and far between. It seems like it may have been easier to just get new flashlights than it was to buy new batteries.

At any rate, when you had a fresh one that was burning on all cylinders, it was a real treasure. I remember keeping them hidden in my barn coat pockets or inside my barn boots. No matter how many I had stashed, though, I could never find one when my dad needed it. I almost always had to resort to using one of the “almost deads.” Which created the first problem: the amount of light I was responsible to shine wasn’t all that much to begin with.

The next issue was that if one animal in the barn was in distress, surely there could be more. Every time there was a strange squeak or a noise, I immediately had to swing the light to see what it was. It was a guarantee that there was a distraction every 15 to 20 seconds.

Finally, I realized what the main problem in the whole scenario was. I always shined the light on my dad’s hands, because that’s where the action was, and I wanted to see what he was doing. It never occurred to me until this past weekend, that all I was doing was creating the shadow exactly where he needed the light to be.

I think I might have figured that one out sooner, had my dad not just given up on me ever being able to hold a light properly, but now I’m amazed that he managed to keep me around as long as he did. It also dawned on me that my children have been spared this scenario largely due to the invention of head lamps, which we now have all over the house where the ubiquitous yellow and black flashlights used to be.

I am sure I am not the only one out there with memories of being verbally lambasted over the improper holding of the flashlight. I know this, because I’ve seen the meme “some of y’all have never been yelled at for holding a flashlight for your dad and it shows.” Looking back now, I realize that all the time I was watching my dad’s hands, keeping the light from where he really needed it, I was learning how to do the things he could do, and I’m so grateful that I had the chance to watch him.

I’m also grateful that he made it into such a scene that it has stuck with me forever. While these episodes are now some of my most fond memories, if you had told me at the time that they would become so treasured, I would have probably thrown a flashlight at you.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.