A HOLIDAY MIRACLE?
by Phil Radoff
On Christmas evening, as my brother and sister-in-law were driving off, I waved goodbye and threw the switch to turn on the outside lights to illuminate their path down the driveway. After they left, my wife walked to the mailbox at the end of the driveway to retrieve yesterday’s mail, which we hadn’t bothered to collect on Christmas Eve. We don’t normally rush to collect the mail, which is likely to be 90% junk anyway, a combination of solicitations from worthy charities to which we have already contributed–or decided not to–and offers for goods and services in which we have no interest.
When my wife returned with a meager collection of envelopes, she reported that all of the lights along the driveway were illuminated.
“How can that be?” I asked, incredulous. The street level light hadn’t come on in more than a year. Indeed, its failure to turn on was a continuing source of annoyance and exasperation in view of its previous history. Two winters ago, our former snow removal service had clumsily managed to sever the final segment of electrical wire running from the middle lamp to the street level lamp. Despite numerous emails and phone calls, the snow removers had failed to take any steps to repair the break or even to respond to our communications, and we parted ways with them after more than 20 years of increasingly spotty service.
During the last winter a severe storm had broken many tree limbs across the front lawn, and some of them had damaged three of the four outside lamps. Remarkably, the street level lamp was untouched. We were able to replace or repair the three damaged lamps, while we tried to decide whether to hire an electrician to restore the connection to the fourth or undertake on our own to join the ends of the previously severed wires, now separated by a gap of about six inches.
Ultimately, the desire to do it ourselves won out, and, after a few false starts, I consulted a helpful Home Depot employee and purchased: some wire connectors, a length of three-wire underground cabling, and a roll of tape, all guaranteed to be water-proof and suitable for connections destined to remain underground, and I set to work. Stripping the wires and making the splice at each end of the break wasn’t as easy in the event as it seems in the retelling, but at last the repair was completed and the segment of spliced wire was wrapped in a plastic bag and tied at each end. My wife (the gardener) dug a short trench about four inches deep and we buried the newly spliced cable to the level of the connecting segments. With some trepidation, we threw the switch and were rewarded with four brightly shining lamps. Success!
As it happens, we rarely use the outside lights, so it was months before we felt the need to turn them on again. Imagine our chagrin when the street-level lamp refused to come on. Must be a blown light bulb, right? So I duly removed the top of the fixture, reached in and unscrewed the light bulb. I had brought along a Simpson meter to check for continuity, and found that the bulb was fine. Just in case, I replaced it with a new bulb and again threw the switch. The lamp remained dark. So all that effort to make the splice waterproof had been in vain. Ground water must have found its way into the joint and created an open circuit. To make matters worse, I hadn’t thought to mark or take note of the spot where we had spliced the severed wires, so we would have to dig around quite a bit to relocate it. Ugh. Not worth the effort. We would live with three lamps and give up on the fourth, at least for now.
So…when on Christmas evening my wife walked down to collect the mail, she was surprised–amazed, really–to see that all of the lamps were on.
I was equally amazed. As a former physicist, I felt sure there must be a scientific explanation, but perhaps there was another, more intriguing answer. Perhaps it was our own version of the miracle of the Hanukkah lights, where one night’s oil miraculously lasted for eight nights. After all, Christmas night was also the third night of the eight-night Hanukkah festival. Or perhaps it was the distant jingle of sleigh bells that my wife thought she had heard, but had initially discounted as the product of an overactive imagination. Indeed, as she opened the door to the house I too could have sworn I heard a faint but distinct “ho-ho-ho” off in the distance.
Not quite believing in the miracle of the lamp, whatever the explanation, I again threw the switch on the day after Christmas. Again, all four lamps were illuminated. In the spirit of true scientific inquiry, I determined to run this test each night until the day after Hanukkah. I told myself that if the lamp was lit on each day of the festival and again on day 9, there must indeed be a scientific explanation; but if the lamp was lit only on the eight days of the festival and returned to darkness on day 9 and thereafter, the miracle would be confirmed.
I felt duty bound to write to my brother to tell him about the mystery of the last driveway lamp and the alternate explanations I was considering. On day 8 of the Hanukkah festival he wrote back to say that, as he and his wife were driving off, he had noticed that the street-level lamp was dark, so he stopped the car, got out, and kicked the lamp post, whereupon the light came on.
I didn’t bother to run any further tests.
Phil Radoff is an ex-physicist, retired lawyer, and longtime BOLLI member and SGL. For many years, he has led opera courses and has been a frequent lunchtime speaker on the operas of Mozart, Verdi, and others. Phil has also written several one-act comedies and published a short-story collection (Butterflies…and other stories). His stories have appeared in the BOLLI Journal and in other periodicals.