My mother is finally distributing her most precious possessions to her five offspring. Obsessed about the possibly that her children would fight viciously over her life’s collection, she went through law school to specialize in probate law, never intending to practice except to advise herself about her material objects’ dispositions. Is my mother the holder of a priceless Western Asian art collection? A stash of gold bars? Yves Ste. Laurent’s early design sketches? Abe Lincoln’s certified toothbrush? None of the above.
Some of the most personal items are being distributed to establish a legacy at preferred public institutions. Her piano is going to a university music program rather than to one daughter (not me) who she encouraged to play. Makes sense – who wouldn't want a name plaque on an item that exemplifies one’s identity outside the family.
My mother gifted one brother with our grandfather’s roll-top oak desk. I got a grandmother’s books from the late 19th Century, though I don’t read that language and am uninterested in that topic. Part of the reasoning, I know, was that each of us supposedly resembles the original owners of these items, but also was a nod to gender- “appropriateness”. This from an active life-long promoter of women’s equality, in her way. My mother, the Paradox.
Recently my mother drove many miles to hand-deliver a cache of items. Some I had selected from a typed list; others she just tossed in the trunk. Some of these items present ethical dilemmas.
In 1950s America no self-respecting middle- or upper class woman attended nice occasions without a fur stole. This is a wrap made with the fur of some rodent or small animal. The classic is the mink stole. My mother’s is not mink, but it is soft and beige-y. However, other than as a Halloween costume I have no use for it. Similar stoles sell for a mere $20-50; and anyway, it’s offensive to even my fairly moderate animal rights sensibilities. At a consignment shop someone said, “Everyone’s trying to sell stoles.” Someday I’ll dump it off at Goodwill for the tax write-off.
The ivory necklaces
Oh, Mom. Mother. Her Edwardian sensibilities impelled her to travel to every continent on the globe. Items that caught her eye were carted home, things sometimes so fragile that they were transported home in her lap. Things she picked up for her progeny were low-quality tourist bait. My mother toured Vietnam and I really did get just a lousy t-shirt. It went to Goodwill.
In this recent haul my mother gifted me, unsolicited, with two ivory necklaces. They are low quality carvings, and in fact one may be bone. Maybe they’re both bone. I would not be caught dead wearing a necklace made of what was once a poached elephant’s tusk, and certainly not bone. Recently six tons of contraband ivory was turned to dust. To sell these necklaces would support the market value of these despicable items. They will be buried in the backyard. Update: they were thrown in the trash.
Portuguese Bullfight Tile tray
How quintessentially 1950s. I had forgotten the black enameled tiles depict bullfighters. For sale now on eBay - SOLD
Experience researcher of built environments with an anthropology provenance. Copyright 2004-2017