November 30th, 2006


On Having It All (and then some)

We can't get rid of our stuff.

My mother was an enthusiastic, one might almost say an obsessive, collector. Many memories of my childhood involve my mother up a ladder in one of the 3 large walk-in closets in which our apartment rejoiced, fussing with the myriad cabinets and boxes and file-drawers in which she kept her stuff. There were silver snuff-boxes (Japanese), little ivory birds (Chinese), sake cups, many iterations of the Seven Lucky Gods, minatures that were meant to decorate bonsai trees, and a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten, because those closets were FULL.

And that was just the stuff in the closets.

After Mama died, Papa couldn't cope (this was in 1974, by the way, in a small town in Texas--Brownwood, in fact, where the Robert E. Howard papers have been deposited. But I digress). He scattered Chinese ancestor scrolls over the West Texas landscape like confetti, and he would have scattered more, except that I took over the responsibility for quite a lot of it (not the ivory birds or the miniatures,though. Even I could see that they weren't really very well-carved or old or anything but appealing to my mother's desire to have matching series of small things). Over the years, I've managed to de-accession a considerable amount of what I refer to as the Opal W. Sherman Memorial Museum of Tchocherai (yes, I know that's spelled funny, but it's the best I can do). But there's still plenty left.

A silver tea-set of almost baroque opulence, for instance. Serving bowls and trays. A beautiful wooden Quan Yin, whitewashed over the remaining polychrome because Mama considered its dark and worn original condition depressing. Japanese Imari dishes and bowls. Cut crystal candlesticks. Things you'd think somebody in New York City would be willing to pay good money for.

You'd be wrong.

They come, they tell me (sometimes kindly, sometimes briskly) that nothing's worth very much, there's no call for this kind of thing, they deal only in Important Pieces that are Highly Collectible, maybe I should take up Ebay, or just donate it somewhere and take a deduction. And then they get the hell out of here, leaving me feeling like a cat who has just been told, in no uncertain terms, that the antelope she's just stalked and slain and brought to your feet, is nothing more than a mangy mouse.