My paternal grandmother was an art and antique dealer. Although as I recall, much of her collecting was done for herself and us, of course. Her family. She did do some business, but every time she went out on behalf of a client she would end up adding to her own collections. Or my parents. Or mine. She started putting stuff away for me when I was just a child.
She took me to my first auction when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. She taught me how to bid. And when to back off. I still have a small painting I got at that auction. It was a long time ago, but I still remember how excited I was.
It turned out she passed her love of beautiful things on to my father. And he, in turn, passed it on to me. In fact, a lot of the time he and I spent together revolved around shopping and collecting and decorating my apartments.It was a strong bond between us.
I was reminded of it yesterday, when I read the WordPress Daily Prompt, “Memories For Sale“. The idea behind it was, passing by a garage sale and seeing an object for sale you recognize.
Believe it or not, several years ago I had a very similar experience. It was probably about nine, ten years ago. Give or take. Doesn’t matter, really. In my case I wasn’t driving by a garage sale. I was in a shop. But first let me put some context around the story.
Right about the time I moved into my second apartment, I took a real liking to chinese porcelains. And I decided I wanted to start a collection. My father, who had a great eye and very good taste, soon joined me on my ‘hunts’. We found a couple at auction. Over the years we’d come across one or two we’d like at various shops. When he and my mom went to Honk Kong on business, they brought a couple back for me, as gifts.
Before I knew it, I had a pretty extensive collection; and my dad decided they weren’t being displayed to their advantage. He decided I needed a cabinet or a wall unit to show them off properly. He wasn’t wrong. And so he and I started to design one. When we figured out pretty much what we wanted it to look like he called his favourite cabinet maker. My father was a big ‘custom-made’ guy.
The man’s name was Quinto. He was Italian, had learned his trade in the old country and didn’t speak a word of English. My father didn’t speak a word of Italian. Somehow they communicated with one another. He (Quinto) was a true artisan. A craftsman. You couldn’t rush him, but the finished product was always perfect. A thing of beauty. My father truly appreciated his talent, workmanship and passion. And he loved my father for it.
They got along like a house on fire.
So my dad called him, and brought him over to my place, so he could see all my pieces. Also so he could see my apartment and we could decide on which wall it would rest. And we also showed him our sketches. Without one word being exchanged between any of us, he knew immediately what we were after. It took almost four months, but when he delivered it, all we could do was gasp. It was absolutely magnificent. Perfect. Beyond anything we could have imagined. He had taken our rudimentary ideas and made them positively soar.
Every time my parents came over my dad would sit and admire it, and all the porcelains perched on its shelves. It moved with me about three times, including to Toronto. And then, suddenly, one day my taste changed. Pretty dramatically. And I ended up selling most of my furniture at auction.
In all honesty, I never wondered where any of my old furniture had ended up. I never forgot shopping for it all with my father, so the memories were intact. And still are, for that matter. But I was enjoying the new phase of my life. Several years passed.
Lo and behold, a friend and I found ourselves in an antique/junk shop one sunny, summer afternoon. It was in the west end of the city, not an area I frequent often. For the life of me I can’t remember why we were there. I can’t remember why we went into that shop, either. It was a small store, with several small rooms and a basement.
We were just about to go down the stairs when something caught my eye. I turned to my friend and said, “You know, that wall unit looks just like … holy shit … that’s my wall unit!!!” I remember saying those words as clearly as if I’d said them yesterday. And I stopped dead in front of it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What the hell was it doing in this shop? I’d always assumed someone had bought it for their home.
As we stood in front of it, I told her its history. The whole story. About my collection of chinese porcelains. About designing this with my dad. About Quinto. About all of it. The store owner had it filled with a bunch of junk. Which, I have to say, made me sad. I thought, if he only knew how long it took to make this, how much elbow grease, how much love went into it, he might treat it better.
For some reason, I believe I was meant to be reunited with it. I don’t know why. My dad passed away in 1987 and never knew I’d sold it. Maybe this was a sign from him. Maybe he didn’t like how it was being treated. All I knew was, I had to tell the shopkeeper the story. Luckily he was there. When I asked him where he’d gotten it, he looked at me like I was nuts. I wondered if it had been sold a couple of times and he was the current owner. Nope, he bought it at the auction house.
Then I told him it had been mine. That I was the one who’d put it up for auction. His eyes were bugging out of his head. No wonder. What were the chances, really, that the original owner would waltz into his store all those years later??
Right. Slim and nil.
Of course when I asked if he wanted its history he said “yes”. It was interesting. He hadn’t bought it to sell. He’d bought it to put all his doodads on. But after I told him how long Quinto had laboured, how many times he sanded (by hand) and polished (by hand) to bring out the natural veneer of the wood, and how he’d hand cut all the brass fittings he said he was going to get the junk off it, clean it up, put it in the window, and sell it. Hopefully to someone who would love and appreciate it.
No, I never went back. So I have no idea what happened to it. I hope it did go to a good home. Somewhere it has pride of place. And I hope, in years to come, it leaves its new owners with memories every bit as wonderful as mine.