"I'm Breaking Through"
“Now.” continued Helen, “Listen to me.”
I look directly into her face.
“Over there...” she said gesturing to the far left wall ...that had a dark wood (mahogany) rope leg late Sheraton (transitional late Sheraton-Empire;1840’s) ...medium sized drop leaf table centered against the wall. (These, to be found in Maine sea captain’s homes, are a ‘nothing’.) Centered on the top of the table was a... in striking contrast to the dark wood... large pedestal based opaque white ‘milk glass’ sawtooth patterned ‘early American pressed glass’ New England (Boston area) compote. Both were below an English Sheraton mahogany looking glass (mirror) with a reverse glass painting of Mount Vernon at the top. “... you can SEE my ANTIQUES. I presume YOU know what those things are....”
I nodded, after turning my head toward them and then back to face Helen. “I do.” I said.
“Do YOU understand that ...I... know what those objects are?”
“I can understand that.”
“I can understand that.”
“Of course you can. NOW... does that look CLUTTERED to you?”
“It doesn’t to ME either. Those; that TABLE and the compote ...below the mirror... were all put there by my great, great..., great, great; I think that’s right... GRANDMOTHER. They have never been MOVED by anyone since she put them there. THAT CHAIR your sitting in... has never been out of this room ever that I know of. The old upholstery ...that EVERYONE sneers at me about... was put on there by that same woman. WHY would I take it OFF I tell them. GO take your great-great grandmother’s upholstery off YOUR OWN CHAIRS I tell them. Do you understand me?”
“Certainly I do. This is a fine chair with a great Victorian upholstery. That’s obvious to me. Even the old (Victorian style attached) skirt is great.”
“EXACTLY! And it’s not for sale. EVERYONE who comes IN HERE wants to BUY that you know. It’s NOT to be thrown out either. They think that compote is UGLY. HOW do you think you know what UGLY IS I say.” Helen said continuing to gesture with her coffee mug across herself and toward the wall.
We both had our eyes alight on a modest mound of small dark wood and old (19th century) stiff paper boxes on the floor to the left of the table. “THAT IS CLUTTER?” Helen said. “Those are my great GRANDMOTHR’S letters. That’s not CLUTTER. GO GET you own CLUTTER of your GRANDMOTHER’S LETTERS. What’s the matter with these people?”
“They don’t have that... this; the whole estate thing. They don’t know it exists.”
“Your not kidding”.
“They think of only modern; in their modern view. They’ve never seen this. Even if its in a museum they don’t get it; they look at it for a few seconds and walk away. They never live this. I do. I have. All my life.”
“THERE we are aren’t WE. I could tell that RIGHT AWAY: YOU KNOW. They said that anyway. But: PROVE IT I say. You LIKE the chair?”
“Of course. I’d buy it I a heartbeat.”
“And you wouldn’t strip the upholstery off?”
“No. It’s one in a million; you’d never find that again.”
“EXACTLY! And you know that. How did they FIND YOU?”
“I don’t care. So tell me what that is.” She said gesturing to the compote.
“It’s a New England milk glass pedestal based compote in sawtooth pattern. As early as 1840 but probably Civil War. Classic”.
“Not that much. No one knows what they are and they’re not around.”
“Not around for sale; no one offering them. They’re actually scarce but since no one knows what they are they don’t sell for much.”
“Well I like it even if all of my friends tell me it’s ugly.”
“That’s part of it too. See... that they actually notice it AND comment on it shows, subliminally, that they DO take it in; that the compote’s positive art qualities attracts even those that think it’s ugly. And they don’t know what they’re looking at either. That’s all part of this... of what I do. People think THEY have good taste when really... they don’t know anything at all about what they’re looking at. I see it all the time.”
“So you know what the table is too?”
“Oh yeah. And the looking glass.”
“Looking glass. My grandmother used to say that. Well Mr. Pedestal Base... do you READ old letters too?”
“That’s archival; documents... rare books. Really a whole separate thing. NOT that the pile of boxes over there isn’t attractive to me as an object. But it’s the content; the archive is what that’s all about.”
“You do that too?”
“You read them?”
“No... that’s for professionals... scholars... I just feel my way in... get a sense of the history content... of the historical importance... of an archive. I’m sure there’s content in there. Has to be. And I’m sure you have more? Family letters?”
“Boxes and boxes of them. MORE CLUTTER. HA, ha, ha.”
I was feeling more comfortable; feeling more in my element. This IS what I do and the objects and query were easy; light pops of a tennis ball over a net that I could... lightly... and definitively... pop back. “Pop, pop, pop” I could hear the ball. I do this all the time.
“How much IS that old chair worth? HOW OLD IS IT ANYWAY?”
Trick question? On my guard... I should be? “OK I’m not gonna buy it” went off inside my head. “PROMPTLY (respond) with cool-casual” were the internal instructions: “Twenty-five hundred.”
(Does this mean I’m too low... or too high? A quandary within micro-second silence).
“No one has ever said THAT much. ONE said FIVE HUNDRED. Eileen wouldn’t even SIT DOWN in that chair. SO: ...I will say ...PROVE IT. Bet you don’t get THAT much!”
(‘That much’? Does she mean... not that much money for the chair... or the ‘prove it’ rebuttal coming from a client when I state an actual ‘high’ ‘price’?) I didn’t address an answer but jumped tracks over to:
“It’s 1780’s at the earliest and could have carried to 1810. New England. Maple. Old finish. Classic Marlboro (English influence decorated straight front leg). Possibly Maine made. Probably coastal New Hampshire; Portsmouth. But... here I find it IN its original setting; original home; estate... with full family history of ownership... no problem right? And the old upholstery. FROM the family. Done BY the family with an original Victorian covering... it appears... (I look down at the worn left arm rest to view old-older-oldest (?) upholstery UNDER ...and peeking through the Victorian fabric... as I speak) to be the original upholstery? Or at least a much earlier upholstery. Or both; TWO OLDER layers. ...They’d love that. Have a whole lecture-seminar on just THAT; the layers of cloth. Won’t even MENTION the chair. Just the fabric. I...”
Stopped because Helen was looking at me as I looked up from the chair arm “It’s over... I’m in.” my little inside voice said: “I’m breaking through”.