antiques et cetera

Browsing the oft-impossibly narrow warrens and dens of antique shops filled with fragile, glassy esotera, with five year old boys in tow, is not a pastime for the faint of heart. Timid pattycaking doesn’t get it done: A resolute parental disposition bordering on downright meanness is required yet the classic tools of cajolery and bribery will serve useful or lo and behold wretched Garbage Pail Kids cards should reveal themselves, count your lucky stars and let your arm be carefully but slowly twisted. One blustery afternoon on the way home from school (after paying down the mortgage on our library card) dear Oliver Fern and I visited the antique shop which is next door to the small Italian restaurant that makes the best lasagna in the city (strata of delicate handmade pasta bringing to mind the buttery softness of chocolate consumed in the shade of a warm July afternoon) and found this tidbit tray from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 here displayed as it was for several weeks with the rare dirty old magic horseshoe against the mirror of the sidetable where I work but relegated since to that infamous junk drawer which contains scrabble tiles, Lego blocks, expired seed packets, coins of unknown international origin and certain other antiquities of objectionable taste. The proprietor of the shop told the funniest story for Oliver Fern, about his grandfather who was suffering from dementia at the time and I know you’re thinking dementia could not be funny at all but trust me this nugget was and could’ve been funnier still had I not been distracted by poor Oliver Fern concentrating so hard to comprehend the grown-up nonsense I thought he might collapse with catatonia onto the rickety table before us, causing a very fragile-appearing globe containing marbles galore to go a-smithereen-shattering. Antique marbles surely must cost an outrageous fortune and we cautiously shimmied to safety out the door.
February 2018 - Tidbit Tray-42On the subject of antiques and whatnot, earlier this winter I finished Betty MacDonald’s landmark The Egg and I along with Paula Becker’s Searching for Betty MacDonald (incidentally, Becker is the co-author of an informative work on the A.Y.P Exposition) and last month while enjoying coffee and a chat with one of Seattle’s preeminent dark horse historians who lurks amid towering library stacks, whirring copying machines and the taller-still conifers of the north end, I was invited for a short tour about the grounds of the old sanatorium where Betty MacDonald was treated for a spell of tuberculosis.  Believe me on this, the day thereafter a convincing brochure from the nursing home tucked in the very shadow of old Firland Sanatorium arrived in the mailbox attention to my mother-in-law who has lived with us both in spirit and junk mail as her continuing myriad correspondences travel to us instead of the afterlife as would be more appropriate yet indeed that cruel irony I feel closer to her than when she was alive and part of me is honored to receive the odd letters from her old acquaintances, mailers for excitingly revolutionary hearing aids and infuriatingly numerous ghost subscriptions to such fine magazine publications as Farm Country Cutesy Stories and Nauseating Nostalgia (my pleading-best efforts at cancellations astonishingly rebuffed at each turn).  If colorful marketing materials are to be taken at face value, the relief of assisted living under the tall trees thereabouts the old sanatorium is boundless except during the occasional two hundred year windstorms which have the potential to bring enormous firs crashing down through the rooftops although the various infirm and memory-impaired will barely notice as they monitor the steady drip of updates down their RSS feeding tubes which are checked at least twice each half hour.

7 thoughts on “antiques et cetera

  1. Enjoyed the various threads woven into this tale. We receive strange correspondence for departed dad who has never lived with us. Do you know that there is an Egg and I Road? If memory serves me correctly, it’s somewhere near Port Townsend.

    • Louise, you’re right about Egg and I Road. I’ve been on it before but it quite preceded the time when I knew very much if anything about the story of Betty MacDonald and my memories have faded. We passed it last month on the way to Port Townsend and I’ve been determined since to head back that way for an exploration. The turn-off is awfully pretty into the valley and it seems like it’d make a pleasant bike tour although I recall some fairly steep hills but on the other hand it seems like you’ve done your share of doozies so it might just be a matter of other aesthetics and safety considerations. It’s distinctly possible I’m getting it mixed up with another scenic byway to Discovery Bay as I’ve gotten lost in there on purpose a handful of times.

  2. Wonderful, I’d love a day of lasagna, antique shops filled with glass objects, casually looking over the shoulder of the dark horse historians. My grandparents’ mail is now finding it’s way to my parents’ house – those little electric seats that carry you up the stairs look fun. Pretty sure back issues of the Farm Country Cutesy/Nauseating magazine were the only ones stocked in my old doctor’s waiting room (“Can you identify this old farm implement whats-it?” “Re-purpose that cast-iron slops trough as a bidet!”)
    I’d read a bit about that 1909 Exposition – -after being a summer docent at the William Seward house in Auburn, NY – – they built a version of the house for the NY exhibits, might still be around on the U of W campus (?) His statue is still around in Volunteer Park.
    Enjoyed your post! 🙂 RPT

    • I’m pleased you stopped by, Robert. It may also be of interest to you to know that regarding Mr. William Seward, one of my favorite parks (just went for a long walk there last weekend, in fact) in the city is named for the fellow. It’s hundreds of acres with footpaths under old growth trees that give you a feel (sort of) for what the terrain was like before so many trees got chopped down and sent to San Francisco.

  3. What a treat it is to tag along (though only virtually and vicariously) on your adventures! Hats off to Oliver Fern for maintaining consciousness long enough to shimmy unscathed out of that antiques store (the description of which reminds me of an old hand-painted sign that used to sit outside a barn we’d pass on our way to Wild River State Park: “We buy junk and sell antiques”). I also loved your observation about how you felt closer to your mother-in-law after her death thanks to the marketing flotsam that continues to wash into your mailbox. I had the same experience with Esteban’s mom: There was a kind of intimacy in receiving correspondence that was meant for her, as if I were still living for her by proxy. It was always a sad task to write an old acquaintance and inform them of her passing, but I did enjoy paging through some of the clothing catalogs — especially the ones with questionable-looking, old-timey undergarments. We can only hope that neither you nor I will ever need “rows of hooks to keep everything in place.” 🙂

    • Number one, thank you for sharing that about Esteban’s mother, Heide. It seems to me that you understand precisely that which I speak of. As for your mention of “rows of hooks”…… in the process of doing my best to quickly put big, sagging-in-the-posterior grandma and grandpa hip-hugger white undies out of my mind, I’ve moved over to Brain Room Number 573 featuring the more benign but weirder Dr. Seussian image of a robotic socks and shoe putting-on machine which lately I’ve been thinking would be a major quality-of-life enhancer.

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