Last night I sat late in front of the woodstove and listened to the wind howling outside. It was one of those nights when the oil burner and the woodstove cooperated to keep the house from freezing.
There I sat with my tea and the most recent edition of the Maine Antiques Digest, MAD, to those in the know. I have no inclination, space, or money to collect the items the MAD shows on the pages. But I love to look and wonder.
I often wonder how families came to part with the Bellamy Eagle with Bellamy’s dedication to their ancestors on the back. Or how the precious embroidered work of a great-great-grandmother no longer has a place on the wall. The silver ware, or the china? that I can understand. But to part with who you are, of that, I have little understanding.
So I sit and wonder, was it the allure of the $ 149,000 price at auction? Or a family dissolution so total that nobody remained to put a claim on the small embroidered black and white cat that the family had loved so well at one time?
As an anthropologist, I long ago lost my innocence about family breakups, estates, and forced erasures of entire family branches. Americans look with amusement at elaborate ( to them) kinship systems of other people. But ignore the complexities of their own when uncles, aunts, daughters, and sons get erased. I heard this occasionally, ” there was another daughter, but she was lost to the family. We don’t know what happened to her.”
I know that to many people, these are just things. But I’d willingly drub the fools who toss their intimate family past away unless there was a desperate need to convert it to wealth.
There is personal history in this. My mother was orphaned at age eight and brought to this country to serve. It’s been almost impossible to recover much about her background. The past was so traumatic a countryside that she always discouraged me from researching it. So I have great difficulties imagining why people could consider their intimate heritage as partible as a box of old belts and crockery.
I got into the habit of sitting by the fire, reading and speculating on the contents of the Maine Antiques Digest with my wife’s grandmother. It was a very un-neat tabloid publication of many sections. We’d sit by the stove drinking tea and eating homemade hermits. We’d hand around the sections and discuss the contents. She was knowledgeable about antiques, and there was an education in each of these sessions. We had an understanding of how highboys, armoires, and Chippendales went from auction to auction. But she, too, wondered at the more intimate things at a sale just as much as I do.