We just finished The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read it once, years ago, but I wanted to read it aloud again. It's hard to complain about your lot in life whilst reading about what that family went through to survive 7 months of blizzards. Their entire life consisted of 2 meals a day of brown bread (dry) and boiled potatoes and twisting hay to keep a fire going so that they wouldn't freeze to death. Sobering, huh? They ran out of kerosene at one point and Ma made a button lamp so they would have at least a little light. I've copied that part out for you, here it is:
“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this new-fangled kerosene was ever heard of.”
“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves- they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”
When he had gone to do the chores for the night Ma told Carrie to bring her the ragbag. She took some of the axle grease from the box and spread it in an old saucer. Then she cut a small square of calico. “Now find me a button in the button bag, Carrie.”
“What kind of button, Ma?” Carrie asked, bringing the button bag from the cold front room.
“Oh, one of Pa’s old overcoat buttons,” said Ma.
She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer.
“Give me a match, Charles, please,” Ma said. She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.
“You’re a wonder, Caroline,” said Pa. “It’s only a little light, but it makes all the difference.”
The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
We decided to make a button lamp today and followed Ma's directions. At first it burned really fast and seemed to be just burning the cloth, but after a while it seemed to settle down and just burn the oil. I didn't use axle grease but cheap-o corn oil that has been used to deep fry a bunch of stuff. It was really bright, much more so than modern candles (maybe candles in the 1880's burned brighter?) and was hard to blow out. Very hard. It took 2 of us blowing as hard as we could, several times, to blow it out.