When I was a kid, I loved all things Victorian. Hand-crocheted doilies, bone china tea sets, and ribbons and lace all said “luxury” to me. Luckily for me, my grandmother agreed. She had quite the collection of antiques: trinkets and treasures that she loved to show me.
“Let’s go snoop,” she’d say. Sometimes we’d go to her bedroom and she’d pull a jewelry box of treasures to look through.
Other times we’d go to her basement that smelled faintly of a natural gas leak emitting from somewhere in the piping. She’d choose a box from the shelves that lined a wall, and one-by-one, show me each item inside. Each item came with the names of relatives, a story, and a declaration of value, either monetary or sentimental — or both.
Sometimes the items were books, the names of relatives hand-written inside, and we’d read them. We sifted through old photos, magazines she’d saved for a pretty picture, ancient stuffed animals that had belonged to my mom or my aunts (which Grandma always declared “too dusty!”), vases and plates, and decanters which she warned had been used for alcohol — rendering them completely inappropriate.
I recall thick, wire-rimmed spectacles so they old that had “probably come across the country in a covered wagon,” and when I tried them on, she’d quickly tell me to take them off so as not to damage my eyes.
During her “doll phase” we’d go into other “doll room,” an entire bedroom dedicated to antique dolls. She loved to take their clothes off to show me how their joints work, point out parts made of kid leather, carved wood or porcelain, remove their hair to show me the marks on the crowns of their heads, and discuss the types of eyeballs each doll had, and in what country they’d been made.
Each visit, I knew I would surely come home with a treasure. On some level, I felt greedy, knowing I shouldn’t be asking someone to hand over their stuff to me. I knew that if I expressed enough admiration of an item, there was a 50/50 chance that I’d end up bringing it home, if not that visit, on a future visit. Before long, I acquired a trove of antiquities.
As each item was passed to me, it was accompanied with a story and instructions. Of a Christmas candy dish: “I bought this at a junk shop because I thought it was pretty. It’s cheap. Throw it away when you get tired of it.” Of a red hen salt cellar: “Isn’t this funny? Don’t break it.”
Of an unmatched earring: “This was my mom’s. I remember her wearing it.” (That one had no instructions, but I remember the far-away look in my grandma’s eye when she spoke about her mom.) And of a set of carved wood buttons: “These are very old and came off my sister’s coat. Hold on to them, they don’t make things like that any more.”
Many items she gave me are gone. Or maybe they’re packed in my basement in a box of forgotten things. But some still sit where I can see them. To anyone else, they’re just junk collecting dust, but to me, they’re vivid, tangible memories of my grandma who so lovingly spent time with me.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org