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.

16 thoughts on “When the Lights Go On Again . . . In My Toilet Bowl*”

  1. Love your quirky gifts! Reminds me of the year my dad bought my mom a new saddle (she never rode our horses), which was obviously meant for himself. She placed it on a saddle rack in the dining room and refused to let him use it for several years!

  2. How can anyone match a green plastic toilet seat and annual Timex watches ?!
    Coincidentally, just today (!), my husband Jon shared his revelation: that I too most appreciate rather non traditional gifts. So far my favorites: an official football (we played catch with me able to throw fairly good spirals til I broke a nail); a wheelbarrow (still used); the “stocking leg lamp” nightlight from Christmas story; and the cous de gras: The Cotswold Way….a one hundred mile walk from Chipping Camden to Bath, England (10 miles/day for 10 days)! He claims more of the same for this holiday season! Norine and I have been oh so fortunate!

    1. Thanks, Diane. Saw the Hutchins at my birthday party and will see them again when the Las Cruces Ukes perform for the Blind Veterans. Happy Holidays and good health to you and Chad. Love, N.

  3. Ha ha Norine… I love the story about the niece pinching you Lol… I’ve got to get a light for my mom’s toilet bowl too! She fell three weeks ago, hit her head on the tub and resulted in a subdural hematoma : ( (I learned it’s bleeding of the brain). She was in ICU for five days, recovered, back home, and I know she still gets up in the dark to the restroom so this will help! Hugs Norine.., I love Christmas but don’t love the shopping; thank God for the online shopping! Search: toilet bowl light…

    1. The reason I weave Harold into my stories is because he is so ever-present in my mind. In February, we mark the 10th anniversary of his death, yet I think about him daily and dream about him almost every night. We were married one month shy of our 56th anniversary, so we spent most of my life together. As my friend, the grief counselor and co-author says, with death, the relationship is not severed; it merely changes form.

  4. My mother tells the story of how my dad – on her first birthday after their wedding – came home and announced, “Guess what I bought for your birthday!” She was excited until he opened the box. It was a pair of boots…for himself. Ah well…..
    Loved your toilet bowl story. Who needs an old diamond anyway….

    1. Monsy’s grandmother, whose first language was Spanish, used to say, “Oh, the mens.” I think that would be an appropriate commentary for Fran’s story. That one is incredible. Similarly, my mom bought a sapphire ring for me dad. He didn’t like it so he sold it. “Oh, the mens.”

  5. I’ve heard of mood rings but never a mood toilet bowl. Beautiful! Amy chose well — and so did you with Harold. Happy birthday and hope this holiday season is great for you and yours.

  6. I’ve been feeling just the same way this year Norine….the holidays are sweet, but sad too when most of one’s family is gone. I did not know about Harold’s quirky gifts…that’s a riot! Sending you much love and thank you for the reminder to savor those we love in all their strange glory while they are here with us! One great thing about your new toilet lights….no need for Christmas tree lights…guffaw!

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