Moon Lamp


One hundred years ago my grandmother was a child when the Spanish Flu finally reached Nez Perce, Idaho.

The Great War ended. Uncle Non returned with a limp and a spray of shrapnel lodged in his back, shards sometimes found in the bottom of the wash tub, spit out by the wringer. Grandma called him Non, although his given name was Tom–she gave pet names to anyone she loved.

Grandma gave me Non’s moon lamp, the Art Nouveau style I admired, still fitted with the original frayed cord that sends moonlight rippling over the water when lit. Heat from the bulb turns the cylinder balanced over it to project behind painted glass. The iron base is sculpted with a gondolier and his passengers, The Lovers. It’s ingenious.

The family was as poor as all the other families in Lewis County, farm scratching in the panhandle, mending and re-mending brace and harness, hoping for rain but not too much. They lived in a small wooden house at the edge of town, a young father and mother with three children not yet of school age before the influenza epidemic arrived, a pale horse, pale rider.

The family was struck, along with many others, with the fever. Cows went unmilked, horses were set out to forage along the dirt roads of the town before a farmer became too weak to tend them. Alone in the silent mottled shafts of sunlight falling through cracks in the siding, my grandmother, Angela, did not succumb. She drug a chair to stand on from the kitchen table over to the crank telephone on the wall to call for help. Her own mother lie upstairs dying.


“How do you know this?”

She asks me twice after I read my response to the exercise to the group, then further: “How could you know this?”

I am in a workshop exploring the intersections of poetry and essay, the lyric weighting of nonfiction narrative. I’m taken off-guard by the unexpected question as response.

“My grandmother told me,” I shrug, as if it must be obvious. Yet, apparently, she doesn’t believe me.

“How is that possible?”

I didn’t understand the question. I spent my childhood in my grandmother’s company. I assumed other grandmothers told stories, shared memories, showed one how to take a cutting from a rose to grow a new plant. I shrug again and repeat my answer.

My grandmother is the only person who ever really slapped me, if I discount the offended young Spaniard in Salamanca whose blow I dodged. Grandma was trying to work a brush through thick tangles in my hair before we drove to town, hair just like her own, and I resisted each tug. I earned it.

Author: Kim K. McCrea

Kim K. McCrea earned her BA in English before embarking on a career in technology and public service. Kim won Oregon Writers Colony 2018 essay award, Treefort’s 2017 Wild West Writing Prize, and was named runner-up in Cutbank 2018 Big Sky/Small Prose contest. Her creative nonfiction is featured in Cutbank, Tishman Review, Cagibi, and elsewhere; she is the author of the novel Pandora's Last Gift. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kim lives in Oregon, where she studies the moon and stars and wanders with her Labrador in the rain.

20 thoughts on “Moon Lamp”

  1. What a great workshop topic. I think when you say ‘100 years ago’ some people can’t envision a bridge to the present. It’s an interesting essay choice with the potential for the next big pandemic knocking on our door.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Love this Kim. Your Grandma sounds like a force! I think you inherited some of that! And I love your description of the lamp.
    Thank you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That seems an asinine question to me. Gosh, isn’t that a lesson to all writers to blend memory and imagination to create? In this sense, at least? I imagine the moon lamp glow; must cast a good eerie light on its own in the dark. Like a surrealist painter whose name I can’t recall who featured those Greek-looking nymphs by the poolside! Good business. Hope the class is going well. You should be teaching it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bill, suppose it was an honest challenge blurted out, urgent enough to override workshop decorum, when I consider it further.

      And oh, yes, Parish and the famous “Daybreak” very much alike in style. Have the framed print of it, insightful intuit

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I should have assumed positive intent from your teacher, I meant to say. Damn this typing with thumbs! Sound like an ape, at best!


  4. I love this story — from start to finish.

    Here in Alabama the story is also told by the stones. Old cemeteries full of children, all about the same dates. I know of one such place in which all the family names can now be found on land deeds ten miles away. The legend the old folks tell me is that everyone packed-up and moved that ten miles to escape the fever incubated by that cursed land.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ray, you remind me of how many years ago I took Grandma to the cemetary in Nez Perce, in conjunction with a family reunion, and we walked the headstones and found her mother’s. I was young and strong, impossibly immortal 22-year old, yet humbled to stand there.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Still the good stuff
    (and perhaps more so, actually)
    four months later:
    psychic, pertinent, poetic (can I say that?)

    [mackerel, angel hair, broccoli, root ginger, wild garlic, vine tomato]


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