By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. It has long been my contention and pet belief that we denizens of Spaceship Earth, for all the formal education we’ve had, know next to nothing not just about our particular planet and our very own solar system… we know little or nothing (but think quite differently) about the hundreds of things that we see constantly, use frequently and have known about since conception. We may know the names of these things, all these things, but what we know beyond that is superficial, cursory… and more often than not, wrong.
Being the Good Samaritan I am, I often write about common things that we think we know, but don’t. Today this burgeoning tradition takes on another item known to all, known to none. It’s the candle.
For the incidental music for today’s article, my friend Graham Lee said I couldn’t do better than Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (1973) Many others would concur with Graham’s recommendation… but I do so without great enthusiasm. Elton’s lyrics are too often glib and banal. As for his characterization of Marilyn Monroe, it is insipid, factually wrong and willfully misleading.. Otherwise, I like it as much as Graham.
Still, he managed to garner a knighthood (the all important “k”) for his additional too sweet lyrics about Diana, Princess of Wales, and if he’s good enough for Her Majesty, he’s good enough (just barely) for me. Find it in any search engine and play it as you read this article. I promise to illuminate this subject.
Candles I have known (at least superficially).
Like most middle class Americans I have had more than a nodding acquaintance with candles since birth. My birthday cakes were adorned with the requisite number. These were promptly blown out in the prescribed manner, after suffering through the annual rendering of “Happy Birthday,” a sophomoric and irritating little ditty that accompanies you through life, your whole life, without surcease. If you have any sense at all, you come to detest it and all the well-meaning morons (let’s be honest with each other) who sing it at the drop of a hat, at the top of their voice, no matter where you happen to be.
Still, I have now in my possession a photograph from my third birthday in 1950. I was adorable. The candles look good, too.
I next recall another jolly holiday, Christmas. In those days and in ours, candles were always a part of the exuberant decoration which always marked this season. As every decorator knows (and writers, too, of once-called “women’s” magazines), candles are cheap (let’s not mince words), and they do (so sayeth Martha Stewart and her ilk) spruce up and up market any home quickly, easily, and with instant effect. This is why fully 35% of candle sales are made for Christmas and the season. We want our homes to be festive… for pennies. It’s an admirable objective, and candles certainly help us achieve it.
More candle recollections.
If candles add their distinctive (and stylish) look to the holidays, they can in the right object turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. At least this was the case with Liberace. The man owed everything (except the love his doting mother lavished on her Lee) to a few candles, a pair of second-hand candelabra he found in a thrift store, and (again complete honesty is required by my professional canons) a quite mediocre rendering of any classical tune the audience knew, starting with “Bolero” and ending with — “Bolero”.
More, and still more, memorable encounters with candles.
Candles, you surely see now, play a significant role in my life specifically and my huge extended family, generally. Since this is undeniable, I hasten to tell you a confirmatory anecdote. It concerned my cousin Carolyn’s eighth grade graduation from parochial school. My grand mother (a low church Episcopalian at her highest) was perforce invited to the event… and reluctantly attended. It was the days of mummery and Pius XII in the See of Rome and Grammie expected — and got — the worst. It happened as cousin Carolyn, always at her most deceptive in white (ask her poor hubbie),marched dutifully down the aisle holding a white (what else?) votive candle. Each of her now sanctified classmates did the same… When Grammie saw white clothed cousin so attired, never mind the candle, she blurted out, in church no less, “I need a drink.”
The Protestant side of the family retired to a Howard Johnson’s restaurant (and bar) where Grammie ordered a grass hopper. It was the only time I ever saw her lose her cool, order a grass hopper (and perhaps a second) and utter sotto voce maledictions against The Eternal City. What percentage the offending candles had in creating this havoc, I cannot say, although I did enjoy the mayhem immensely.
Utilitarian candles, a rare beauty.
On one memorable day in the late 50’s after a storm had pulverized the power grid, we were, the entire town, literally left in the dark. Candles rightly stand tall in such inconveniencing moments as this. And so it was with us. We had, good Midwesteners that we were, a cache of candles, some new, some used (including a disgraced overly green candle my mother had banished from the dining table). With its slender elegance it looked forlorn and out of place with the more work-a-day candles. The entire family set about the business of rendering “Fiat lux” in candlepower. The final result was both practical and eye-catching. We were proud of our handiwork and condescending about the fact our neighbors were nowhere near as well prepared as we were.
Such an attitude, of course, is only possible because of the continuing usefulness of candles which is, after all, why I wrote this article in the first place. This usefulness has been used to lift the darkness for over 5,000 years now. Like so many things, it started in Rome (though ancient Egypt has its partisans, too.) Still, Rome makes sense doesn’t it?
When you rule the largest empire in the world, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Rulers always need extra time. The candle, therefore, was needed yesterday and was popular at once, among Roman men who ruled the empire and their wives who ruled them.
These wives, stern and practical, had the running of large establishments, and they relied on candles to keep them running day and night. Men relied on candles; women either made them… or, in due course, purchased them. And so began the romance of women and candles which continues to this very day.
Most men, clueless, know nothing of this perennial alliance and mutual admiration society, and almost immediately err… and never ever get their equilibrium back. You may guess at the secret joy of women from such a situation. Which is why I offer all men this crucial admonition: whatever gift you give make sure it contains the necessary candles, tall, elegant, chic. Inform her ladyship that you, her obedient servant, will unpack, position, and light them, making sure the wick burns clean.
… And remember, as the old Chinese proverb says, “It is better to light just one little candle than to curse the darkness.” If you do not follow my fraternal advice, you will most surely come to find its veracity, for without candles, you will surely come to know the lady’s ability to cast you unto utter darkness, where you will need a candle… but will not have one. The Sisterhood will see to that.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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