While watching A Christmas Story tonight (for about the umpteenth time), memories of
my family's Christmas came to mind and it made me think about how much of a hazard those
old electric lights were. The strings of lights we - and most people in the 1960s -
used were the kind that had the candelabra size lamp bases. They were all wired in parallel
so that each bulb received the full 120 VAC. Unlike today's 2-wire lamp cords, those
of the day did not have polarized plugs to ensure that the outside contact of the screw
base would be connected to the neutral wire and the hot wire would contact in the bottom
center. That meant there was a 50-50 chance that while you were unscrewing a burnt-out
bulb to replace it while the string was still plugged in, you could easily get a shock.
Add to that comforting thought that a popular Christmas tree light adornment back then
was a pressed aluminum reflector that was installed by passing the bulb base through
it before screwing the bulb into the socket. If that baby happened to come into contact
with a bulb base when the plug was inserted into the wall socket the wrong way, presto,
a big surface full of 120 V! Fortunately, they were - at least when new - covered with
a thin transparent colored film.
Add to that the fact that those buggers
(the bulbs) got high enough in temperature to burn the skin off the end of your fingers.
Combine that with a tree that had been cut back in September and by then had had no
water osmosisizing[sic] through its veins for nearly four months. Smokey the Bear had
nightmares over that scenario, I'm sure.
A coup de gras was the heavy metallic
tinsel icicles that we'd hang from the tree boughs. That stuff wasn't like the lightweight
metalized plastic stuff in use today. It must have had lead in it. So not only was it
yet another opportunity for an electrical shock if it found its way onto a hot bulb
socket, but possibly also could have caused lead poisoning to boot (of course, you'd
have to eat it, which I don't recall doing).
Just like standing on our
heads in the back seat of the family car or sleeping up on the package shelf in the
back while Mom & Dad chatted away up front, you have to wonder how enough of us
survived the natural selection process to proliferate the species.
one thing I'd like to ask. Did anyone else's parents insist that it was Santa Claus's
job to decorate the Christmas Tree, and that the mortals were to merely erect the tree
in a stand a couple days prior, then hang the lights on Christmas Eve? Part of our Christmas
morn treat was a fully decorated tree. My father hearkened from the Buffalo, NY area.
Maybe it was a regional thing. Were we alone?
- Kirt Blattenberger
RF Cafe Progenitor & Webmaster