Thursday, March 27, 2014
The Prodigal Courtier
I went to lunch with my husband yesterday and saw something I haven't seen in 30 years. It was a little porcelain figure of a frou-frou, 18th C. French Courtier dressed in white and trimmed in gold. He had a partner once. She too had been dressed all in gold trimmed white. Her greatly ruffled skirt ballooned out over an imaginary, whalebone hoop. She wasn't at the restaurant though. He seemed to have taken another lover with more color somewhere along the way.
I couldn't help myself, I reached for him surprised to find he wasn't securely fixed to prevent such a groping as the one I was about to give him. Like King Kong and Fay Wray, I clutched him in my giant hand and stared into his eyes. I didn't think I'd ever see him again in my life and yet here he was keeping watch over the falafel eaters such as myself. I turned him over to see what his mark was but instead I saw a bright pink, garage sale sticker that said $1.00. The waitress walked by, "Is this really for sale," I asked?
I was told everything was for sale and so I placed him between Richard and myself and dug out a dollar for my prize. Within minutes, the waitress came back, there had been a mistake my dollar went back in my bag and my courtier went back to his shelf. Just like that, found, recovered, gone. But the truth is, he wasn't the same guy I had back in the day. The beautiful couple I had played with at Grandma Lucas' house until they became mine were long gone. Smashed in fact, by my brother in an act of cruelty.
Here's the thing. I didn't care. I didn't mind when the waitress took him back. She was mortified and I was really okay with it. I didn't need him, it was just really nice to see him. Like an old friend I'd lost touch with that I chanced upon again. The thing that struck me was how common he must have been in his time. I thought he and his dancing partner were unique to my grandmother. Something she alone had but my couple were New Yorkers. This gentleman is clearly a Wisconsiner. These figures were probably all over the country in the 1930s.
Perhaps it was not as surprising to see him again as I would like to think. Years ago, in the same Antique Shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, I saw Grandma Nye's exact green vase on a shelf. The vase I was told was rare, Depression-era glass. Meanwhile in the jewelry cabinet I saw the wedding ring that Mabel was given by her first husband. I now look at these things as having been popular and numerous in their day. Not in the same way people of a generation have a collective awareness of TV shows or songs--common experiences of an era. These are material things dependent on taste and budget. My family's possessions would not have been all that unusual in the scheme of things. We all like to think we're unique but there's always crossover somewhere.
These material things come and go and turn up where we least expect them. Diana lost a charm off Grandma Lucas' charm bracelet once. It was our very favorite one--the artist's palette. Di called me very upset and out of nowhere I came over very wise and told her "Everything is transient. We had it once but now it's gone. Life is just that way, you have to accept that and not lament its loss". Seriously, I responded like that mostly because Diana needed me to even though I did feel a pang in my gut. Fifteen years later I was on ebay and I found the exact charm that was lost. The company who had made them and many other ones familar to me had gone out of business in the 1960s but somewhere, someone had the stock still and here it was being offered. I bought one and gave it Diana for Christmas that year.
Life and all who sail in her are transient but sometimes the road has roundabouts and familiar scenery.