Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Porcelain Flowers and China Figurines

The Continued Anti-Anti-Clutter Campaign – The Stories Inside Of Things

            Auntie Muz was a huggy-kissy lady, and that didn’t always go over well in our rather undemonstrative, stiff-upper-lip kind of a household. She was also a very generous Godmother to my sister, Diane, and me. Her real name was Mary Helen, and she’d been a chum of my mother’s since high school, back in the 30’s and 40’s. She doted on us girls, taking her assigned role most seriously, remembering us with little treats on each and every holiday, major, minor, or dreamed-up. Auntie Muz would pop by with little packages all wrapped up in bright paper and ribbons, hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, and of course birthdays and Christmas. She even brought a “consolation” gift to me on my sister’s birthday, and vice versa.
            I still have a Twelve Days of Christmas necklace and a silver heart-shaped box, a tiny handmade ceramic bowl and an even tinier enameled box. But my two favorite "Fairy Godmother" treasures sit safely behind glass in my china cupboard, a delicate and dainty china figurine labeled on the bottom “Sunday Best 2251”, a little girl bundled in her best winter clothes, complete with muff and hat, and a pair of bone china nosegays of spring flowers. Gifts from Auntie Muz were always chosen to appeal to my “grown up” side, never toys or games, always “young lady” gifts even when I was a little girl, which is probably why I still possess so many of them all these years later.
            Auntie Muz was a collector. Her home was filled to bursting with dolls and teddy bears she bought and sold at doll shows, a veritable dolly-and-teddy museum. I think she wanted one of us to follow her in her collecting footsteps.
            The Fairy Godmother was also a kisser, and my family, with Mom as the example, weren’t even huggers, so greetings and farewells at the door were often rather clumsy. Auntie Muz would exclaim her love and then reach out to wrap her arms around each of us in a sweeping embrace and plant a red-lipstick kiss firmly on each cheek. When we were little, Mom said we had to be polite and “take it”, but I watched her stiffen at the indignity of such an emotional display. For years, I followed her lead, stiffening and tolerating. But at some point in my adolescence, after observing most of my friends indulging in the fine art of the hug, I realized that hugging was sweet and could be comfortable, so I spent years teaching myself to be something of a hugger, using Mary Helen as my model. 
             My mom and sister continue to this day to shy away from demonstrations of affection, but as an adult, I have adopted the ways of Auntie Muz, greeting friends with a warm embrace, and sometimes even a peck on the cheek! Mary Helen, aka The Fairy Godmother, passed away a few years ago, but her legacy lives on at my house and in each one of my hugs!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Clowns, Crowns, and Pink Jeeps

More Of My Anti-Anti-Clutter Campaign

            On April 1, 1987, my family (my former husband, Tom, my son, Dean, and I) played an April Fools Day joke on the world by departing on what would grow to a three-and-a-half-month road trip through thirty-eight states and two Canadian provinces. Among other momentous events, Dean would turn three-years-old during the trip, as we wound around the country in a giant terrestrial loop in our cute little motorhome named Barney (which predates the purple TV Barney, so no relation).
            One of the first stops we made after leaving the safety of California was in Sedona, Arizona, half sleepy little artists enclave, half resort spa. (I understand that Sedona has changed drastically over the decades, but back then, it was a sweet little place that reminded us of Ojai or La Jolla before their own tourist invasions.) We camped among red rocks and evergreen trees along a little creek that had carved a path through the red sandstone, and bundled ourselves against the cold to explore trails headed into rocky wilderness.
            A highlight of our stay in Sedona, was our Pink Jeep Adventure, a wild ride in the back of a brightly painted Jeep that carried us bouncing and sliding and whooping and laughing for several hours out into remote canyons and creek beds. Dean, at two-and-a-half, was wildly excited and could not stop smiling. I do not know if he still remembers that adventure first hand, or just remembers the event from its hundreds of re-tellings and scrapbook viewings.
            Wandering through the artsy stores in town post-adventure, Dean picked out a gift for me. He labeled it an early Mother’s Day gift, but I was allowed to open it in April, more than a month early. He chose a music box decorated with a picture of a little boy dressed as a happy clown. The box plays “Send in the Clowns” when its lid is raised. Dean was so excited to find the box, so excited to be able to select it just for Mom, and giddy when later, back at the motorhome, he watched me unwrap it from its brown paper bag and exclaim over it.
            The music box, a favorite piece of my clutter collection, sits today on my dresser next to a photo of Dean I took just before we departed on our "grand tour" in 1987. He loved to play dress up, and that day he was wearing a golden crown and looks so much like the little clown on the box, giant blue eyes, serious expression of confidence, sincere happiness. Dean is now thirty-something and probably has few occasions to wear a crown or otherwise dress up (except at Hallowe’en), and I hope he doesn't mind a bit of nostalgia posted here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Anti-Anti-Clutter Crusade

            The most recent anti-clutter, get-organized-by-throwing-stuff-out, Twenty-first Century minimalist adaptations of feng shui, guilt-inducing, how-to handbooks are best sellers, but I do not subscribe to their message. On the other hand, I am not a shop-til-you-drop consumer who hangs out at the mall or online lusting after the latest and greatest must-haves-of-the-month.
            I don’t like a mess, but I rather enjoy meaningful clutter. I like gee-gaws, knick-knacks, tchotchkes. I like souvenirs, mementoes, keepsakes, and the stories they contain. I love heirlooms and hand-me-downs and collections; I really love collections.
            My home is filled with stories – short stories and epic novels – manifested in the physical forms of all the little (and big) treasures I’ve collected, gathered, accumulated over a lifetime. I have souvenirs from vacations and adventures, some purchased, some merely picked up off the ground and stuck in a pocket. I have hand-me-downs from old friends and deceased relatives. And I have mementoes chosen for their symbolic meaning at a significant moment in my life. I have ticket stubs, playbills, postcards, and handcrafted goodies.
            My treasures are arrayed, assembled, displayed all around my little home – in bookcases, on walls, in bowls, behind glass, on bulletinboards, in scrapbooks -- bringing me comfort, reflecting smiles, and reminding me of the great adventure stories of my existence and the dear friends who are characters alongside me in those tales.
            In a Grand Anti-Anti-Clutter Gesture, I intend to spotlight, one at a time, some of the gee-gaws and keepsakes from my trove.

Grandma Gladys’ Turkey   

            This large autumn-colored serving dish, in the shape of a proud tom turkey, sat center-stage at every Griffin Thanksgiving gathering of my childhood. Grandma Gladys was an extraordinary cook, having been raised on a Quaker farm, who produced vast spreads at each holiday, Thanksgiving being perhaps her finest.
            Succulent turkey, savory dressing, cranberries, potatoes, both sweet and mashed, gravy, three vegetables, and fresh rolls and colorful garnishes down the center of the large dining table, china and silver place settings around its edge, with several pies rested on the sideboard. Grandpa sat in his place at the head of the table, carving the turkey. Grandma sat at the foot of the table, nearest the kitchen, so she could bounce up and down to fetch more and more food. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my sister and I, we surrounded the food with soft laughter and quiet conversation.
            “More turkey meat! More turkey meat!” That’s the excited line I repeated over and over from my telephone-book-booster-seated chair when learning to talk at my second Thanksgiving, in a story I’ve heard repeated every November for sixty years!  
             I am the second oldest of the nine cousins, so I watched as we squeezed more and more chairs around the table, until it could hold no more. Then, the Kids' Table was created in the den, and we older cousins had our own little party at our own private table!
Gladys Miles Griffin - My Grandma
            One year, my cousins and I began the tradition of sneaking into the dining room to snatch pitted black olives from their crystal serving dishes, handfuls each, to mount on our fingertips. Then we’d chase one another out of the dining room, Grandma behind us shaking a wooden spoon in our direction and laughing. She out-smarted us by holding back extra bowls of olives for dinnertime.
            My grandma passed away long ago, back when I was in high school. Griffin family holiday feasts continued, moving from one son-and-daughter-in-law’s house to the next, for decades. My cousins and I have grown, married, had children of our own, and spread out across the country.
Only on rare occasion do we gather as family, but each of us has created our own Thanksgiving traditions that carry on those Grandma nurtured in us so many years ago. Being a vegetarian, I no longer eat “turkey meat”, but still love the rest of the fixings. I still gather with my family and friends who have become family around an extended table to share our gratitudes and break bread. I’ve even been known to put black olives on my fingers and wiggle them, just like we did as kids.
            I am grateful to be the keeper of Grandma Gladys’ Turkey. Throughout the year, he sits atop a high shelf in my dining room, looking down on all the gatherings that take place there. I can glance up and look him in the eye when I’m eating my morning cereal and sipping my coffee and remember all those Thanksgivings Past. Today, on the first of November, he moved down to the coffee table, where, as the regal centerpiece, he is also the central character in one of my life stories.