My Kingdom for a Lamp by Michelle Blanchard Ardillo
It’s my mother’s fault that I can’t go to sleep without reading. My father worked nights in the oil fields of Louisiana when I was a toddler; I was the firstborn, and for four years, the only child. My mother was lonely so she would read to me, one Little Golden Book after another. Then, before I went to bed, I would “write” a note to my dad, copying carefully the letters my mother had written for me, and we would leave the note in the bathroom for my dad to find when he came home in the wee hours of the morning. As a result, no matter how tired I am, I simply can’t go to sleep without reading.
It’s pretty clear that my mother instilled in me my lifelong love of reading. One of the best birthday presents I ever received was my very own subscription to Reader’s Digest magazine. It came every month, with my very own name on the subscription mailing label. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could tear me away from that magazine the day it arrived. It was a present from my godmother, my mother’s sister, and for quite some time she renewed that subscription each year for my birthday. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.
“Writing” that note to my dad each night may have sparked my interest in writing as well. One Christmas, all I asked for was a typewriter. My friends all had detailed lists of toys and dolls, but not me, I wanted a typewriter. (I also wanted a clipboard, like my dad used for work as a soft drink distributor for the 7-Up Bottling Company.) When I found that typewriter under the tree, a portable manual typewriter, which required nearly herculean strength to establish contact between the keys and the paper, I was thrilled. I would sit for hours banging out little poems and song lyrics, which I would sing to myself as I rode my bicycle down the long driveway to the community swimming pool across the street. I can only remember one of those little songs I wrote, a multi-verse ballad about the wonders of the moon and its beautiful, lyrical, magical, mystical, radical qualities. No, I don’t think there is a Grammy in my future.
As I got older, however, I realized the issues that mandatory nightly reading presented when traveling, primarily, would there be a bedside table, and more importantly, would there be a lamp on it? Sleepovers at a friend’s house were always problematic. Social conventions prescribed that you stay up all night snacking, playing games, watching movies, singing into your hairbrush, and either (a) telling ghost stories, or (b) endlessly talking about the boys you liked. When were you supposed to read?
Moving into my college dorm freshman year, I was devastated to find that there was no bedside table. I could see well enough to read from the built-in light over my desk, but to turn it off when I finished reading required that I get out of the bed to do so. So annoying.
Much later in life, when happily married and visiting my in-laws for the holidays, we slept in my brother-in-law’s childhood bedroom while our young daughters slept in my husband’s childhood bedroom. There was a bedside table on one side of the bed in our room (instantly claimed as “mine”), but alas, no lamp. I quietly asked my husband if there might be an extra lamp somewhere that I could use. A lamp was found, but the cord did not reach the electrical outlet near the bedside table. So, off on another hunt for an extension cord, only to discover at 10:30 PM, after several games of Scrabble with my father-in-law, that there was no light bulb in the lamp. I can’t imagine what my in-laws must have thought about all of this effort just to read before going to sleep.
The next most important issue after a reading lamp is how many books to pack for a trip. Too many and you may have to leave out vital things like shoes and toiletries. Too few and you end up bored and cranky when you finish everything you packed on the fourth day of a two week vacation. Once on a week-long vacation in Provence, I was sure I had packed enough reading material: three mysteries, a cookbook, a biography, and a hardback omnibus edition of five of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Wrong. Even without a bedside table or lamp, I managed to finish all of my reading materials before the end of the vacation. (So did my 6th grade daughter…she finished her bagful of books and then systematically started reading each one again. Like mother, like daughter.)
As technology progressed and all of my reading friends “drank the Kool-Aid” and bought Kindles and Nooks, I stood firm in my adoration of the written word printed on paper and either paperback or hardbound, as God and nature intended. Eventually though, I began to weaken, and finally, my curiosity got the best of me. Armed with a fistful of Christmas gift cards from my middle school language arts students, I took the plunge. I ordered a Kindle. I downloaded all of the free books that were available, mostly classics, and worked hard at getting used to it. I frequently told my reading friends that while it was a nice thing to have, I still loved my books. But then, the very next opportunity to travel arrived, and I realized the most spectacular thing about my Kindle. Equipped with my Kindle, its charging cord, and a tiny little clip-on goose-neck “lampette”, I no longer had to worry over bedside tables, reading lamps, and extension cords OR how many books could I fit into my luggage before my husband cried “Uncle.” The possibilities are limitless. Have Kindle, will travel. I can read and then fall asleep like a baby. Anywhere, anytime. Life is good.
A Louisiana native, Michelle Blanchard Ardillo is a lifelong reader who teaches middle school English and literature in a suburb of Washington, DC. She is currently working on a middle grade novel about a missing suitcase as well as a collection of autobiographical essays. Follow her on Twitter @michardillo and on Goodreads.