It all began with my science fair that year.
I was at a loss for a project idea. At dinner one night I made the mistake of asking my father for suggestions. Dad, a lighting engineer for GTE Sylvania, suggested I do a project on the incandescent light bulb.
That’s when the figurative light bulb should have gone off in my head to steer clear of such an uninteresting topic for 9-year olds. But I ignored that inner voice as my dad waxed poetic about the bulb.
Dad suggested he lecture me each night after supper on the topic and together we would build a working electrical box to power the bulb that reduced and expanded the brightness as we turned the dimmer.
Life lesson No. 1: Pay attention to that inner voice.
And so we began. With a pad of paper in hand, my dad and I sat on the couch after dinner for the better part of a week, he talking to me about how the bulb’s filament wire is heated by the electrical current passing through it until it glows. The bulb’s socket provided the electrical connections, he said.
“The beauty of the bulb,” my dad said, “is that it’s cheap to make and versatile.” At the time it was used in household lighting, car headlamps and flashlights.
We built our makeshift light box out of wood and added all the necessary parts—battery, fuse, dimmer, and metal receptacle in which to screw the base of the bulb.
Today, I am sure kids are splitting atoms or building iPhone apps for their elementary school science projects, but I do have to say at the time, I thought this was a pretty progressive project for someone my age. My dad made me do all the work, so I did take pride in the result.
It’s the night of the fair. Mom is there helping me set up because Dad, coming from work, will be a bit late. My report, three pages long, single-spaced in perfect penmanship, sits next to the light box with the bulb.
We decide to test the bulb and turn it on. Nothing. My mom and I jiggle wires. Nothing. Our custodian, Mr. Girard, sees my frustration and comes over to help. He figures it must be the battery, so he finds another 9-volt battery in his supply closet. Still nothing.
The judges come to my project and I ask them if they can come back in a couple of minutes. They agree. Finally my dad shows up. He and Mr. Girard confer and my dad concludes the fuse is blown. Mr. Girard has none in his supply closet.
My dad races down to Radio Shack to pick up a new one. The judges come back and I tell them of my technical difficulties and ask them to please judge me last.
With about five minutes to spare, my dad arrives with the fuse and we put it in. Voila! There is light. I show the judges, who pretend to be impressed, I think. I am near tears.
Life lesson No. 2: Always be prepared. In hindsight, an extra battery and fuse would have been a great idea.
The judging is in. I didn’t even place. The girl who won had a medicine chest with Bayer baby aspirin, Aspergum and Luden’s cough drops with a note admonishing kids not to eat them, that they may look like candy but they aren’t. Are you kidding?
After reading about the phasing out of the incandescent bulb, I asked my dad how much he remembered about the science fair. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about the project.
Now, as he has trouble talking and moving from Parkinson’s, I think how glad I am that we spent that time together then, working on something that was his passion.
Life lesson No. 3: Share childhood memories now with your mom and dad. It may be your life but it’s their legacy.