A Small Gesture Meant More Than She Knew

Part of the idea behind my blog is to provide some history behind some of the signals in my collection. This is one of them that I’ve had for many years that has a great story behind it.

I showed my interest in traffic lights at an early age. I think my parents first saw my fascination in this street furniture when I began drawing them everywhere. (If you haven’t already read my brief bio on the Me and MTL page, it’s mildly entertaining.) Like most kids, I had a toy that I cherished over everything else and would likely enter severe depression if it was ever taken away. For me, that was my ceiling fan/light chain pull.

pullchain.jpgFound in many homes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this little, glow-in-the-dark piece of molded, hard plastic didn’t get a second look, other than when it smacked you in the head after yanking on it to turn the pantry light on. But to me, it was a miniature version of something I was fascinated with. The fact that this resembled a single light with just red and green on all four sides, when all I ever saw was red, yellow, and green signals, meant that this one was really special. Plus the fact that I could easily and comfortably wrap my little hand around it gave me that “it’s mine” feeling.

But with any toy that you constantly play with, eventually it started to fall apart. The two halves of the molded body were starting to separate and the beaded “lights” began to dislodge from their respective spots. I was broken-hearted but determined to hold onto it.

At some point in 1978 (pretty sure), I got off the school bus with my friend Bob at his house. In those days, we called it “getting off the bus with so-and-so after school to go play” – there was not such thing as “a play date”. We began doing things that he and I normally did: beat each other with plastic Star Wars light sabers, check out the fox they were nursing back to health, play with the cats, or hurling those sharp burrs at each other from make-shift forts.

Taking a break, we made our way through the kitchen where Bob’s mom was doing mom stuff. Mrs. W. saw my chain pull and the brutal condition it was in. They had one exactly like mine in their pantry that was in MUCH better condition. She stopped me asked if I would like to have hers. I was shocked. Of course I did! But should I accept it? I was hesitant and felt bad that I would be giving her my dilapidated, sorry-assed stop light and would be receiving one in great condition. I thought about saying no, but a little bit of selfishness accepted the deal.

Today, I realize that she just wanted to see that I had a “toy” that would continue to make me happy. I’m glad I took her up on the deal. Losing her good chain pull didn’t make a difference to her, but it meant the world to me.

Fast forward about 25 years later and I see Bob and his parents at a friend’s wedding. Bob’s mom remembered me as “the boy who liked traffic lights”. I was OK with that. I was able to tell her that I still had the chain pull she gave me almost 30 years prior. I hope she realized what that little gesture meant to me.

Thanks, Mrs. W.

scroll to topNew York City's Red and Green Lights: A Brief Look Back in Time, by Steven GembaraPhoto of an Enesco Ceramic Traffic Light Bank