My elder sister died last summer. Were she still alive I don’t think she would be too surprised to hear me describe one aspect of her character as that of an inveterate collector and hoarder, with strong magpie tendencies. Accordingly, her flat was filled with treasures. These have now been sorted and two particular treasures have come my way. The first I chose after a family get together, the other came as a complete surprise and both are a joy.
The chosen treasure, which arrived before Christmas, was a small, slightly quirky, round-topped, coffee table of adjustable height. In the late 1940’s this was part the sitting room furniture in my family home and had almost certainly been an heirloom from my mother’s side. After getting married in my twenties I would occasionally see it on visits home. But then around 30 years ago it dropped from my radar.
Its new home is our own sitting room, where seeing it is such a pleasure, not only because of its intrinsic elegance and the memories it rekindles, but also because it seals some history. The table is once again united with its sister, a piano stool of similar style which was also in my parents’ sitting room – with similarly shaped legs, similar fluting and the exact same mechanism for height adjustment. After years of separation all three of us are together once more, and it feels good.
The second treasure came two weeks ago on my birthday. I had a tea party and rather than receive presents I asked that the anniversary be ‘gift-free’. For guests who insisted, however, I suggested that the best for me would be a piece of shared memorabilia. My two nieces (my late sister’s two daughters) handed me a carefully wrapped parcel saying simply that it was fragile. It was about 20cm wide and 50cm long. With great care I removed its several layers of wrapping and deep inside was a thin wooden frame surrounding a mirror below and a very Victorian scene above. The picture was of a sickly hare being fed a medicine by a bespectacled, kindly, gnome.
For a few seconds I puzzled over the piece. I knew it was familiar but was not sure in what way. Unlike the table, the mirror’s existence had been completely forgotten. Gradually things clarified – it was the mirror that used to hang above the mantelpiece in my bedroom when I was a small child. At the same time I became very aware how cold and drab was my childhood bedroom, and how this little picture was one of the few objects on which I could daydream.
It had been a very loved object and I had not seen it for probably over 60 years. How it found its way to my sister’s house is a mystery, but no matter. On that day and out of the blue, I was reunited with a long-lost companion and it was a sheer delight. Now we could relax.
I am not a man who displays much emotion, but to discover that an inanimate object such as piece of furniture or a mirror/picture can have an emotional element, as it encapsulates ideas and memories, seems to be a positive advance. It might also make remembering my sister that much easier.