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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grandma's Magic Lamp

My brother got Grandma and Grandpa's Magic Lamp after they passed away. This is huge. And I'm a little jealous, I have to admit. My brother offered me joint custody of said lamp, but I decided it would be silly to cart a little old lamp on a two hour drive once a month. Right? Grandma had two of these Magic Lamps, so I think a cousin got the other one. Cousins, you've been warned: I may need joint custody of your lamp also.

So here's the deal. When you're a missionary kid, a "Third Culture Kid" (TCK) you live a different kind of reality than many other people. From the time you are a child, you see the world in a different way. Your eyes, your soul, have been opened by suffering you have seen. You know that it's a little insane to have 372 brands of shampoo in one aisle in one store, when many people who live in your village in Africa would be lucky to choose from 2 brands. Or even have a store in their village. Or even a shower. You understand the world on a bigger scale than people who have been lucky to live in the same place for a long time. It's not good or bad to be a TCK, or someone who has spent their whole life in one place. It's just the way it is. Wherever and however you grow up shapes you to be who you are today. My brother and I are missionary kids. That shaped us to be who we are. And to marvel at the crazy, amazing things America has. And to never take the magic of this life for granted. Especially the Magic Lamps.

Our family came back from Africa about every two years for a furlough in the States. We would see our extended family. We'd stock up on clothes and other items you couldn't get in Africa for the next two years that would be shipped out in barrels. We would see snow during those America Months. We would go to American schools (Not so fun, by the way). We would get to have ice cream that didn't taste like cockroaches! We got to watch TV whenever Mom and Dad let us! We actually had a TV! And electricity! Crazy and amazing. 

But I don't know if anything was as crazy and magical as Grandma's lamps.

Grandma's lamps turned on if you just TOUCHED the lamp stand!!! You didn't have to flip a switch. You didn't have to turn a knob. You just touched the lamp and POOF on it went. You could touch it with one finger, a couple fingers, your whole hand, or even your foot. And it would come on. So first, my brother and I had to come to terms with the fact that Americans have electricity ALL day EVERY day, and they can have lamps on whenever they want! Crazy and amazing. Add to that the magic of the lamps in Grandma's guest bedroom, and it was lucky we didn't have a stroke from amazement. 

I remember we would fly to Grandma and Grandpa's house from Africa. It was a long, long trip with a lot of airplanes. When we would get there, they would pick us up at the airport and drive us to their house. I remember just being completely flabbergasted because of how many lights there were in the middle of the night- car lights, street lights, stop lights, restaurant lights, gas station lights...crazy. And amazing. And overwhelming. 

I remember laying in one of Grandma and Grandpa's guest bedrooms, trying to get to sleep, and hearing cars zoom by on  the street outside. That is not a sound I heard in Africa. First, there was only one dirt road in our little village- you took it into or out of town. There were about three cars in the whole place too. So there was no zooming of cars outside your window while you slept, and if there was they wouldn't make the same sound because the roads weren't paved. I loved the sound of Grandma's guest rooms. I loved the sound of outside the house. The cars going by. I loved watching the light bounce from the cars' headlights, cutting my dark room in half with brightness through the curtains. 

I have two favorite sounds, besides the obvious ones like my children's laughter, silence when the house is asleep, etc. My first favorite sound is rain. I know, I know, everyone says "Oh, rain is my most favorite sound." It's so cliche. But I'm talking about a different kind of rain sound. In Africa we had a metal roof, so you could hear every little leaf that dropped on it. An African thunderstorm in the middle of rainy season was quite an event to hear! You could also hear all the lizards running across the roof while you were trying to sleep, that was always fun and relaxing. Not. But I love the sound of rain. I'm always mad when it rains here because the sound is so muffled on our nice, insulated roofs. Give me a metal roof and I'd be a happy girl.

My second favorite sound is when I'm in my cozy, warm house and I hear a snow plow go by. Again, not many of those where we lived in Africa-- two blocks from the Equator. I don't know what it is, but I love that sound of plows. It makes my heart swell with happiness and joy. 

There are so many interesting and magical things about everyone's childhood, and mine is no exception. But the thing that always epitomized America, Grandma and Grandpa, coming "home," were Grandma's lamps. My brother and I would argue over who got to sleep in the Magic Lamp Room. We would sit for a long, long time, turning those lamps on and off. 

One thing about being a TCK that's a really big bummer is that sometimes you can't go back to the home you grew up in. I grew up in Central African Republic and Cameroon, places that are tormented today by violence and civil unrest. I can never return to my childhood home. That is a hard thing to know, that you can't take your husband to your old home, you can't show your kids where you grew up. It makes me long for Africa when I think about how I can't go back, it'll never be the same. That time and that place are gone and the only people who really know what my life was like are the people who shared it with me. Telling someone what it was like when I grew up in Africa doesn't do it justice.

Which is why I'm so glad that my brother got Grandma's Magic Lamp. I'm glad I get to visit my brother and sister-in-law, and sit in their guest bedroom and touch that Magic Lamp and remember the magical moments of my childhood. There are very few things that I can hold onto and say "This is from when I grew up." But that Magic Lamp is one of them. So, my brother, when I disappear into your guest bedroom for a while, know that I'm loving the memories that come back with one touch of Grandma's Magic Lamp.

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