Memories and Musings: Revenge of the incandescent lightbulbs

Published 7:51 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

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By Gene Gallelli

When you are living in one of the coldest places in the United States – Antwerp, New York – our plan of spending a balmy week in Florida with Pat’s parents during Christmas break couldn’t happen soon enough.

Antwerp Elementary, where I was principal, had been a beehive of activity for a week before the break and everyone, including the kids, but especially the teachers, needed a vacation. Our two daughters, Lisa and Tara, were anxious to see their grandparents and uncle, but more anxious to visit Disney World and Busch Gardens.

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In Antwerp, we lived in a very old but beautiful two-story, three-bedroom house with an inviting wraparound porch caressing two sides. It had a winding staircase, a rooftop cupola and, on the front lawn, a huge sugar maple. Unfortunately, it also had an old oil furnace that consumed fuel oil like it was free and was about as efficient as a wood-burning fireplace. (We stayed warm under electric blankets and in the upstairs bathroom – everyone’s sanctuary – that had floorboard heating.)

Aside from dreaming of wearing shorts and tee shirts in Florida, I was concerned about the money going down the drain to heat our empty house for nine days. So, I set the thermostat at 55 and Pat insisted I leave on a few lights in addition to giving our neighbors a key to the house. I complied by putting a bedroom light on a timer and a light fixture on the table near the thermostat; it was a table lamp with two 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

The family took two days traveling to Florida, spent a wonderful week with Pat’s folks – along with trips to Disney World, Busch Gardens and Tarpon Springs – and then two weary days traveling back to our home in snow-bound Antwerp, New York.

The fun began upon arrival.

Shortly after exiting our Dodge station wagon, we were greeted by Jim, our next door neighbor, who said, “I’ve got some bad news!”


Aside from the hardwood floors being buckled, the pipes all frozen and both toilets filled with frozen blue water – thanks to the chlorine tablets in the tank – it was colder in the house than outside. (That takes some doing when it was usually below zero in Antwerp and you needed an engine heater if you expected your auto to start.) Fortunately, we had wonderful neighbors in Jim and Clara, and I had a key to the school; so, at least bathrooms, hot coffee, sympathy and showers were readily available.

We slowly recovered from the disastrous homecoming, but not after getting the furnace working and mopping up the inevitable water bursts from defrosting pipes, one of which ruined the carpet in the living room. As if we needed any more evidence of the debacle I created from ignoring science, the icicle hanging from the shower was the final straw.

Of course – I say that with certainty, now – the culprits were the two one-hundred-watt, incandescent light bulbs that were too close to the thermostat and provided enough heat to keep the furnace from running.

Ironically, I saved money on heating oil, but repairs to the wavy hardwood floor, replacing the many burst water pipes, a new carpet in the living room and my damaged ego cost much more than a tank full of oil.

There are some things that family members and friends will never let you forget; the lightbulb caper is one of them. You grow sick of hearing, “Do you remember when you …?”

Family and friends love to tell the story and think it’s funny. I’m not there yet!

Gene Gallelli was associate superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his doctor of education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.