Morning Light

Grandma’s ritual was to light a candle daily. She said it kept the spirits away. “There’s good spirits and bad spirits,” she said. “But you don’t know which is which. So you better play safe and keep them all out, or you’ll be in for a nasty shock one day. You’ll run round looking for matches, but won’t find any.  And even if you do, the candles will have disappeared. And if you find the candles, they’ll be damp or rancid. The spirits are quicker than you. If you miss your chance in the morning, that’s it.”

Grandma never missed her chance in the morning. She was up at dawn to light a candle, wherever she was. This was tricky when travelling, as naked flames are forbidden in hotel rooms, but she’d say, “Spirits know if you haven’t lit a candle; hotel managers don’t know if you have.” This proved to be generally true. Except for the time when the hotel manager was alerted by the smoke alarm, and activated his sprinkler system. Grandma claimed that he was an evil spirit who didn’t play by the rules.

Grandpa didn’t like her lighting candles. Firstly he thought it was dangerous. Burning candles were the number one source of house fires in the country. Secondly, he thought it was superstitious. Thirdly – despite secondly – he felt that if you thought about something, you made it more likely to occur. So lighting candles was self-defeating. It was best to not think of spirits at all.

Grandma said, “Now there are five hundred people in the Valley, and two thousand in town. But when we first came here, we were the only ones living out here in the bush. I was a city girl who’d married a country boy. It was a greater wilderness than any I’d imagined. It frightened me. That’s when I began lighting candles. And that’s what my grandma used to do too. She lit hers to honour God. Mine were mainly for hope.”

A country boy works hard to survive. There’s no easy money or taking days off. As well as being a trapper, logger, and miner, Grandpa was also a hunter, carpenter, and farm hand. He did it all. The logging and mining kept him away for weeks at camp; he could be gone for a month or more. These were the most difficult times for Grandma. The candle became a reminder of him. A light to keep him safe. A beacon to guide him home.

The light was Grandma’s daily companion, and she saw its subtle changes. Of course these depended on the type of candle she used – beeswax, paraffin wax, soy wax, tallow, or spermaceti. The flames burned mainly orange, but within that hue were many others. Like a lover of fine wines, Grandma saw their infinite variety. Every flame had something to say.

A good candle was a good candle for Grandma, whatever it was made of – except resins and gels, which were unnatural. If the candle was well-constructed, unscented, and undyed, it burned well. But in truth it was the wick that made the candle. Its capillary action drew melted wax up to the flame to vaporize and combust. And as the candle burned, a good wick curled back into the flames. It was not the fuel, but was itself consumed.

Grandma noticed that similar candles burned differently. It had less to do with the candle than the day. She saw that all candles burned violet on birthdays, and green near Christmas; they burnt red at Easter, and blue on anniversaries; they burned yellow on happy days, and darkly on days of sadness. When they finally got television, she saw that good news led to pink flames, and bad news to grey. The flame was still orange, but its hidden colour was revealed to her. She didn’t tell anybody about it. It was her secret knowledge, and she didn’t want people to think she had cabin fever.

As soon as she lit a candle in the morning, usually with an Agni match – made by East Indians in the City – she knew what kind of day it would be, and was able to prepare herself for it physically and mentally. If it was indigo, she would pin back her shoulders, shove her chest out, hold up her head, and push against the assaults lined up for her. If it was lemon, she looked forward to a day with her feet up.

One winter morning the candle wouldn’t light at all. She tried many times with her Agni matches. This had never happened before. She changed the beeswax candle to a paraffin one, then a tallow one, then a soy wax one, even her Grandma’s antique Spermaceti. But none of them took. Grandma went upstairs and put on a black dress. Maybe today was not a day to keep spirits away with candles. There was a soul far away that needed to come home.

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2 Responses to “Morning Light”

  1. You can really see things in fire. It is an ancient art called Pyromancy. Burn baby!

  2. Love this one!

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