We lived in a lighthouse

Overlooking the sea,

There was papa and mama

My brother and me;

We had an old dog named Shep

And a tame parakeet,

It was a very fine life

For my brother and me.

Papa worked hard,

He was the sole lighthouse keeper,

Mama made all our clothes,

‘Cause she said it was cheaper;

Mama taught us to read

To add and subtract,

We were too far from school,

And that was a fact.

Papa climbed up the steps

Every night of our lives,

To light up the wicks

So that sailors survived

For the rocks in the ocean

Were brutal and deep,

And under our lighthouse,

Was a cliff deadly and steep;

Papa put up a fence

So we wouldn’t fall down,

It was a very fine lighthouse

The best to be found,

Once a month papa took mama

Into town in our truck,

She bought a few groceries

We were down on our luck

So there never was candy,

We seldom had meat.

(I once had an orange,

It was a mighty fine treat);

Papa fished in the ocean,

We had biscuits and jelly,

And mama made cornbread,

We always had a full belly,

And then came a time,

When a man came from town;

He was a stranger

And not from around;

He gave papa a paper

And here’s what it said,

The lighthouse was going

Electric instead,

So papa no longer,

Would be lighthouse keeper,

We thought we would move,

But staying was cheaper,

We hid in the lighthouse,

Whenever we saw

Strangers approaching,

It was not hard at all;

Papa kept his old truck

Down in the woods,

They never bought staples,

If only they could.

We ran out of cornmeal,

And flour and such,

We lived off the ocean,

There never was much;

Then mama took sick,

And one day she died;

It was the onliest time

That I saw papa cry;

He took us to town

To an orphan asylum,

He drove off with Shep,

And I’m not lying;

He opened the cage

And the parakeet flew

Off in the sky;

Where, nobody knew,

My brother and me

Went to live with a farmer

And learned to do chores;

We were children no longer.

–Sandra Lee Smith

originally written in 2010; updated 2018.


It may seem I am overly fascinated with the lives of those who lived in lighthouses ; my sister Becky & I began to collect lighthouse memorabilia in the early 1980s when we drove up the California coast and discovered that—for whatever reason—we were both fascinated with lighthouses. I often wondered what became of all those families who lived in the lighthouses before they became automated with electricity. We grew up in the southern part of Ohio (no lighthouses) but I was stunned to learn that there are lighthouses in the northern part of Ohio (I never equated lighthouses with Ohio, growing up in Cincinnati) – so this poem and another that I wrote are just figments of my imagination. – sls


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