A Door Knock
From my vantage of ‘the third visit’, I was not only making progress but… had enjoyed myself.
Six weeks brought me back to the old house. It was now the first week of December; late fall. I knocked on the door. Twice. The ritual of greeting, picker’s proposition and admittance was the same and foreshortened. I was standing before the desk and the small table holding a mug of “black” coffee quickly. The woman returned to the room with her mug. She carried an object. I recognized the object; identified it. I still did not know the woman’s name. This didn’t occur to me at the time.
Seated, she sat her object on the table. She sipped her coffee and set her mug down. I seated myself, sipped too and set my mug down… too. We returned to the exact moment of the last visit’s end; a ‘where do we go from here’ pause. I acted. I reached for and retrieved her object. It was too much to resist. She smiled as I reached and lifted.
“Seeing you do that is an assurance that you do know what that is.” She said.
“Oh I certainly do.” I said having now abandoned my coffee and using two hands to maneuver the object so my eyes could fully rake it in search of every possible detail to… affirm I was holding… and beholding ‘exactly’ ‘what I think it is’. It was. It is. Wonderful: A wonderful set of 18th century wrought iron pipe tongs. A wonderfully perfectly proportioned, delicate, petite and PERFECT …with a perfect old surface… and perfect condition and… breathtakingly perfect “WHERE DID YOU GET THESE?” antiquarian …surprise attack… charge. “No one has these… especially like this.” I …uttered.
“I found that years ago. Here. In the house. I was young. I didn’t know what it was; they are. And didn’t ask. I liked them. I kept them in my dresser drawer. Every now and then I looked at them. Squeezed them. Then put them away again. Eventually I found out what they are. Pipe tongs. Old Robert Bailey told me first. Showed me how to pick up an ember. He lighted his old pipe to show me. Used it all to show me; restricted the bowl and sucked the pipe stem. Stirred the bowl. Tamped the bowl. I was fascinated. When he left I wanted to do it all again but I didn’t have a pipe! So I got an old clay pipe and did it all to my hearts content. Never smoked mind you. I just played with the tongs. Eventually that wore out and the tongs have been in my dresser ever since. You’re the first person I’ve showed them to in years.”
“Thank you.” I said while still in the rapture of my examination. I fidgeted and mauled the dainty morsel. Each iota of fine detail cascaded through my eyes from my hands and climbed to the top of my antiquarian brain to proclaim ‘these are the finest pipe tongs I’ve ever… found’. ‘?’. ‘Seen’ I corrected… my antiquarian brain. LUST had become part of my appreciation; lust to own. I sat the tongs back on the table. The dark chasm of denial open between …this woman… and I.
Obviously… the pipe tongs are NOT for sale. This SHE has had them in her dresser drawer for a CENTURY.
Obviously… SHE does not TRULY know how fine a specimen the pipe tongs be… BUT SHE DOES KNOW ‘what they are’.
Obviously… there is no quick and satisfactory way for I to elbow my way to ownership with out risking an abrupt and hard on my butt landing OUTSIDE this home and next to the driver’s door of my truck.
Obviously… I have NO trick of the trade game plan to speed deploy to allow me to PERLOIN ‘these’ ‘exceptional example’ into that truck.
Obviously… I must make something up… now? Or stall. Or stall in mid air and plunge?
“I am correct to assume they are not for sale.” I said.
“Oh of course not for sale. I’d be lost without them”.
“They are a very fine example; beautiful lines, perfect. The best I’ve seen.”
“I know they are quite good; valuable. Pipe tongs bring a great deal of money at auction I see”.
“Yes. And these are that good. Should you ever decide to sell them I would be very pleased to buy them”.
“Well certainly not now but a time may come. Few, I know from my own experience, actually know about them. In fact: Most do not”.
“It’s not quite as bad as that. Let’s just say that they travel in a certain circle and that the sophistication of that circle keeps that circle to itself.” She looked at me with an expression of query. “I know the right collectors to show those to and I know the wrong ones too. In the marketplace those factors for these tongs are equal. There is a large group of collectors that these would be ‘too advanced for”; they are not there yet as collectors. Pipe tongs are vulnerable to this; the object is obscure. Once discovered, the eye has difficulty seeing great specimens so the ladder of discernment is hard to climb. A collector is alone and must wait for years when it comes to pipe tongs. Most of the ones in the market are not very good examples.”
The woman took this statement all in. Sort of all in… I figured. SHE was one of the ones I spoke of. SHE had no ground of self comparison of ‘hers’ and ‘others’ because she’d …never been to the market place. The museums. The reference books. SHE had never been to her own… personal WALLET. Never in her life had a twenty dollar bill been “spent” on an …American Colonial wrought iron… “THAT?”.
Twenty minutes later I was outside in the truck. The tongs were still on the table when I left. The coffee was still in the mug and was cold. The chipper, gay, bantering, smiling and conversationally generous ME was… forced… but done. Smiling I left my new love behind in the darkness of imprisonment in a dresser drawer of an old woman who haunted the creaking corners of her great, great, great, great grandfather’s old house… that is in miserable condition on a miserable side street in a miserable old Maine village …and with a miserable winter setting in.