Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Object is the Story

My home is a museum of sorts. Not like Alice’s cabinet of curiosities where every corner is overflowing with a mixture of elegant or bizarre items she has been collecting since before we were roommates in college. No stuffed Iguanas in my living room. Mine is more of a personal and family history archive, a storehouse of precious objects holding stories as far back as great grandparents and forward through me to the children. Even my 1950s Cape Cod style house has a story – I was three months old the first time I moved in.

Nothing goes in or out of here by accident. I gave Mother’s delightful amber Depression glass citrus juicer to Elizabeth for her birthday because I knew she would cherish it as she does my son Aaron. Sometimes things leave as a way to let go of a memory. It was time for the beautifully carved cuckoo clock to go away when I no longer wanted a constant reminder of husband #1. Speaking of husbands, I’ve lost custody of several treasures although shrewd exchanges were made to keep fine pieces such as the Oriental design rug and the Art Nouveau wardrobe. A too-heavy-to-lift statue of Pan, now sitting by the fireplace, was retrieved from Gary’s ex-wife #2 after years of negotiation. According to family legend, his eccentric mother, Nina, liberated the mythical flute player from a garden on King Hill in the 1940s.

I must admit to a weakness for chairs – nearly twenty different styles can be found in various rooms. The big chair in the living room is here for sentimental reasons while others have been added simply because they are classics. I recall the time ten years ago when I suddenly stopped the car at the corner of Winslow Way and Madison after noticing two rattan chairs on the sidewalk in front of Pastiche. It was easy to see they were real Palecek Bistro chairs not the cheep Ikea knockoffs. Two for half the cost of one – a perk from our time living on an island populated by people with big pocket books and a short attention span. To sit in the chair with the back curving gently down to a comfortable armrest is suggestive of spooning with a lover.

One notion I can’t grasp is how someone could abuse and then abandon a battered sofa at the curbside with a sign shouting FREE. My classic tuxedo style sofa will be thirty next year and it still looks as young as the day it arrived. Also difficult to comprehend is the fact that Janet, my youngest aunt, amputated the legs from my maternal grandmother’s buffet so she could use it as a trunk in a spare room. I cry inside when I think of the once proud piece in Mae Belle’s dining room where in better days, the center drawer often held a Whitman Sampler. I remember the chatter from the kitchen where Mae Belle and her four daughters were discussing the pros and cons of browning the flour for gravy; cousin Mike stacking olives snitched from the divided dish on each of his fingers; Wendell and Terry jockeying to carve the turkey; all while I sneaked the buffet drawer open just far enough to lift the Sampler lid revealing a handy diagram of flavors, always hoping for one more dark chocolate filled cream.

When I open the doors of Mae Belle’s walnut china cupboard and take in the spiciness - it comforts me like the familiar scent of a mother’s perfume. As a child I was enthralled with the contents especially a dainty teacup - Grandma would tip it to the light revealing the face of a geisha at the bottom. She vowed the 1920s china cupboard, table and six chairs I fancied would be mine someday, but if Grandpa’s new wife had her way, the set would have been sent to join the sad buffet. Only my bold and bossy older sister Judy could arrive at Fenton’s house with a trailer in tow to rescue Mae Belle’s dining set for me without anyone mounting a challenge. Judy has the teacup.

On tables at each end of the sofa in my living room sit two lamps as different as the original owners yet each offering similar illumination. The smaller of the two is an antique brass triple branched candelabrum topped with a domed metal shade. Rising above the burgundy colored dome is a brass rod with a ball finial and arrow resembling a weather vane. Mae Belle treasured this fine somewhat impractical lamp because it was a present from her eldest son, Wendell. Grandma, like the metal lamp, was solid and unbending – she knew where she had been and where she was going as though an arrow pointed the way. The little metal arms precariously supporting the shade are still wrapped in Band-Aids placed there by Grandma to keep the shade from slipping. Each time I right it after a stranger tips it sideways, I think of how pleased she would be to see her remedy still in place.

The other lamp, a tall exquisite white porcelain urn painted with cascading braches covered in delicate deep pink dogwood blossoms and gold leaves, is no longer topped with the overly large and gaudy shade it came with when Mother, bursting with excitement, brought the less than practical prize home from a sale. Beth was as beautiful as her lamp, extraordinary in character, playful in spirit, and would never shy away from making an audacious statement. At the last minute during the estate sale, I saved the lamp and replaced the original shade with one in burgundy and gold silk complimenting the Asian simplicity of the lovely urn. Beth wouldn’t mind about the new shade; she wasn’t bound by the past.

I proudly display an anniversary clock on the piano that doesn’t keep time. It was a gift from Mother inspired by my childhood fascination with the around-and-back movement of shiny brass balls under the glass dome of a similar clock belonging to old family friends. Across the room Beth’s mantel clock sits in the same spot above the fireplace where it has remained for more than sixty years even though the hands have been stopped at ten o’clock for who knows how long. I can still hear the bong, bong, bong of the Westminster chime that drove Beth nuts. There are clocks for telling time and clocks for telling stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment