Being cautious I pulled on jeans and t-shirt, eased my feet into slippers, strapped the 9mm automatic on my belt, checked that, picked up my flashlight and slipped quietly through the door.
I waited to calm down and my eyes to adjust. When I pushed the button on the flashlight: Nothing.
Being outside in the dark is foreign to people now. We’re accustomed to having light and believe that light alone will frighten away most things that are not where they are supposed to be.
I eased around the corner of the house to glimpse something headed into the woods and stood listening to the noise of something rapidly retreating.
My father believed that a flashlight’s name came from the way you are suppose to use it. According to his method, the “operator” should press the button, glimpse what is ahead and release the button. It was about saving batteries. That, according to him, was why it was called a flashlight. I thought the button was for sending Morse code, and did enough of that.
Before flashlights were common, a kerosene lantern led the way. My grandfather knew the way to his barn but carried a lantern anyway. Many times he milked well after dark and the light might have been comforting to him and the cow.
The idea of milking by lantern light is so prevalent that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was blamed for kicking over a lantern and starting the great Chicago fire of 1871, or so the legend goes.
Oddly, we know the names of the O’Learys (Patrick and Catherine) but not the name of the cow. Most personal cows, that I’m aware of, had names.
My Phillips relatives kept lanterns near the front and rear door. They were always full, with attended wicks and clean globes.
The Boy Scouts of my era carried flashlights, mostly military surplus with lamps at right angles to the batteries. Our camps were gently lit by a couple of lanterns hanging from limbs. The soft yellow light was adequate to keep you from stepping on someone but not bright enough to keep boys awake — if they ever went to sleep.
Sometime after I stopped trying to sleep on the cold ground the Coleman lantern became popular, producing an intense white light. One of those things will light up a whole camp of boys, but the light is so bright you can’t see anything beyond the edges of the camp.
The experience with the failed flashlight sent me in three directions. I still have the kerosene lantern from scouting days and it is filled, clean and ready to use. There are new batteries in my bedside flashlight. I succumbed to a special buy on spotlights that will light up everything within a quarter of a mile. The xenon bulb produces light rated in the millions of candlepower. You could land an airplane using that thing.
I’m not fond of weird noises in the night, but now I won’t have to wonder what it was.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at email@example.com.