China & crystal & linens … oh, my!

By Cathy Wood

So, see all of those plates & dishes & things in these photos? If you’re like most of my friends & my Younger Daughter, you love this image. You see yourself sitting in front of the open doors, oohing & aahing in delight as you unearth treasures. You’ll carefully pick up each piece, inspect it for nicks, turn it over for identifying marks. You wonder about where it came from & who used it. This is your happy place.

My mom would love you. This was her happy place, too.

Well, one of them. One of approximately 132 million shelves & drawers & boxes & cabinets in her house that look just like this — plates & goblets stacked precariously, tablecloths & napkins packed tightly. All waiting for people to love them.

I am not those people. This is not my happy place. This is my oh-good-lord-what-are-we-going-to-do-with-all-of-this-stuff place.

You see, my mom loved antiques. China, crystal, silverware, tablecloths, quilts — they all found new homes in ours, She knew the layout of every antique mall within a two-hour radius & the name of every antiques dealer within three. Family vacations included negotiations between her & my dad on how many antique shops we’d stop at (although Dad himself was susceptible to glass insulators, Civil War books & farm tools). But it wasn’t the browsing & buying & bringing home that bothered me — it was how freakin’ long the process took. Determined not to miss a single item, my mom could spend hours in antiquing mode. She’d go through every hatbox, every squeaky drawer, every dark musty corner. Time had no meaning when searching for a Towle fish fork or a Heisey relish dish. I took a book with me every time we got in the car because I never knew when I’d have two hours of waiting-for-Mom-to-finish-looking time.

At one point, she started what we’d call today a “side hustle.” She became the original 1980s Girl Boss. At her peak, she had at least six booths at various antiques malls, a small open-by-appointment-only antiques shop at my dad’s retirement project/tree farm and a robust series of much-anticipated yard sales. And she loved every minute. After my dad died in 2016, she shifted from active antiques hunting to enjoying her acquisitions at home. She put a comfy chair in the sunroom and filled the bookshelves with price guides and file folders. We’d often find her asleep with an antiques magazine in one hand & a pen in the other. She and her caregivers spent hours cleaning & arranging & rearranging & putting away & taking back out again. She looked forward to visits from my Younger Daughter, Carolyn, who got the antiques gene that had skipped me. She & her Grommy talked hat pins & beaded purses & Bakelite jewelry. I’d go read.

Mom died in 2020 from complications of Parkinson’s. My brothers & I discussed What To Do for more than a year. Turning everything over to an expert for appraisals & sales seemed easiest. But during the quiet times of quarantine, I’d been thinking, too — about the joy Mom got from collecting, her enthusiasm when sharing finds with others, her directives to not break up this collection or split up that china set after she was gone. I remembered the times I rolled my eyes as new old things appeared week after week and my firm refusals every time she offered something she thought I might like but knew I wouldn’t take home. (Had I hurt her feelings? I’m afraid I probably did.) But I also remembered the project we’d started in the last year of her life — we’d pick out a room, she’d sit down & I’d go from object to object, asking questions & taking notes.

I wish I’d asked more questions & taken more notes.

But maybe I can do something similar now, I thought as the time for signing estate-sale contracts got closer. Maybe I could make up for my past impatience, my dismissiveness of china patterns & goblet styles & what does “Made in Japan” really mean? I couldn’t listen to my mom’s stories anymore, but maybe I could help create more. I could do my best to make sure her treasures were honored & celebrated even if I hadn’t done that during her life.

So Carolyn & I decided to manage things ourselves. As we clean out & organize & prep for sales, we’ll show you what we find & tell you what we find out. This is the place to share stories & memories — both ours & yours. Check back frequently for sale dates.

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