After 50 years of marriage, working together is a cinch

A long-married couple works seamlessly together on those pesky household chores.

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    Golden Day: Fifty Chinese couples celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Tianjin, in northern China.
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How many couples who have been married for half a century does it take to replace a light bulb? This does not have a Zen answer: one to replace the bulb, the other to not replace the bulb. No, for 50 years it was simple: whoever discovered a burned-out bulb replaced it, which meant slightly more times for the husband at our house, especially when it came to the all- but-inaccessible 40-watt "appliance" bulb in the back of the oven. You had to kneel down and almost put your head inside as if bent on self-immolation in order to reach the greasy thing.

Recently, however, we ran into a problem, or "issue" as they say nowadays, related to the condition of our house as well as of ourselves. The challenge was a dead bulb in a kitchen ceiling fixture of the sort that seemed so modern when it was put in during the 1960s. You perhaps know the kind, a circle of glass inside a circular frame that is flush against the ceiling until you pull it down to expose the bulb within.

We had discovered it the night before. It was just above the sink and surrounding counter. But the frame was so seamlessly implanted that we had to try prying it out with a knife. The Engineering Spouse got a chair and was soon up on the counter. I brought in a small stool so I could rise to a chair on the other side of the counter. We managed to pull down the aged frame on the aged springs, which allowed space for a small hand to reach inside and unscrew the bulb.

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Engineering Spouse did so, but there it was in her hand, looking rather nude without its copper threaded end. That end was still in the socket. We decided to wait until daylight.

Daylight came. I went down to the circuit breaker to cut off the electricity to the socket and managed to stop three electric clocks and one answering machine.

Engineering Spouse was on the counter in a trice. I couldn't find the needle-nosed pliers, but she had found clippers with a curved blade and tried to unscrew the remainder of the bulb. She snipped off a bit or two and said we should call an electrician.

But she watched me stretching behind the frame from the chair, and she helped me ascend to the counter. I now had to bend my head because of the ceiling. But I could reach in and feel the edge of the copper-threaded end. I had done something like this once before and it felt the same. I had to proceed with a light repeated touch to unscrew the bulb end without the bulb. But, yippee, it came out. The Engineering Spouse displayed appropriate amazement.

Now all I had to do was screw in the new bulb. But even that is hard when you cannot see what you're doing while you're doing it. I had to look past the junk to the hole for the bulb and then feel with the new bulb in that direction. Around and around it went with no traction. When I let go, it let go.

"You must take a break," said Engineering Spouse.

"Just a minute," I said. I took out the bulb and looked up into the socket. Then I put the bulb where I had just seen the socket. I turned and turned and turned. Contact! Liftoff! The bulb felt as if it were going in.

Engineering Spouse helped me down to the chair, to the small stool, and to the floor. I went down to the basement and flipped the circuit breakers back to "on." At least we had replaced the bank of fuses that we used to have.

I went back upstairs and noticed that the electric clocks had come on. I flipped the wall switch for the ceiling light.

The lamp was lighted! Engineering Spouse hopped on chair and counter. She allowed the springs to pull the frame back in. It was flush with the ceiling.

So how many couples who have been married for half a century does it take to replace a light bulb? One if they don't call the electrician.

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