When the Lights Go On Again . . . In My Toilet Bowl*


Guess what my daughter, Amy, gave me for my 85th birthday?


An illumibowl, a gadget that turns my toilet bowl rainbow colors as I approach it in a darkened bathroom. It’s not sentimental, but practical. It keeps me, a natural born klutz, from falling.

Amy is definitely her father’s daughter, for shortly after we met, Harold surprised me with a gift of a green plastic toilet seat. And did I ever tell you that he was in the plumbing supply business? That meant he didn’t even have to go out shopping for this non-romantic present.

Actually, he thought he was giving me another gift during our one-year courtship. I was studying overnight for final exams at the house of a UCLA classmate, and he offered to pick me up the next morning. When he phoned the night before to confirm the arrangements, he told me he was bringing me a surprise. Ah, an engagement ring I hoped.


The next morning when he walked me to the car, I discovered no diamond; instead his beautiful blue-eyed three-year-old niece, Madge, waited for us. She was the surprise and we were taking her to breakfast. I stifled my disappointment.

This event took place during the mandatory seatbelt, approved children’s carseat era. That meant that Madge sat between Harold and me in the front seat, and we formed an instant triangle.

On our way to the restaurant, Harold stopped at a drug store to buy a cigar while we females waited in the car. As soon as he was out of sight, Madge pinched me hard. In turn, I lightly slapped her hand and warned, “Don’t you ever do that again.”


The small vixen didn’t react, until her adored uncle re-entered the car. At that moment, she burst into tears and cried, “She hit me!” Luckily, a distracted Harold paid no attention to her.

After marriage, Harold continued to present me with unique gifts. During WWII, he had been in the Naval Air Force and was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY. He frequently ventured into Manhattan and loved eating at Katz’s Delicatessen. Over the decades, he often repeated their slogan, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.”

One day, he announced that he had ordered a present for me. You guessed it…a salami from Katz’s Delicatessen. Of course, the salami was really for him, and he ate most of it. However, I must admit that I loved its aroma as it hung from a string in the kitchen.


For my birthdays, he went on a Timex watch binge. Several years in a row, he purchased the same gift. Of course the styles varied, but it was as if he didn’t remember from one year to the next that he had already given one to me. You can bet that I remembered. And so did the children. They thought it was funny. I was not as amused.

I guess I’m feeling nostalgic during this year’s gift-giving season. And if only Harold were still alive, I would love nothing more than another quirky gift from him.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, at this time of year, wistfully reviews the past.


* For those younger than me, this title is a play on words from the song, “When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World,” popular during World War II. The words refer to the London blackouts.