I’m off to my (counting…March, June, July, August) fifth wedding of the year this weekend. D’s cousin and her longtime steady Freddy are finally tying the knot.
D wanted to get them something unique so we went to a vintage store in the East Village Monday afternoon. While browsing, I became fixated on a wooden table lamp.
The base of the lamp was decorated to look like the floor of a play room. There were alphabet blocks and two small teddy bears. One bear sat on a rocking chair and the other sat on the floor next to the chair, holding a ball. Their painted faces and smiles were faded. The metal legs of the chair were rusted and disconnected from the base. The chair tipped over backwards when I rocked it.
Tracing the edges of each figure with my finger, I realized why I was so fixated and was filled suddenly with panic. Where was mine? Had I thrown it out and forgotten that I did?
I was going home to visit my mom that night for other reasons but looking for my lamp became my first priority.
When we got home from the train station, I asked her if we had thrown it out, or if she knew where it was. She knew, as she always does, exactly where it was and pulled it out of our junk closet for me.
“Shade is probably broken it’s so oooold,” she said.
There was a tear in the paper shade but it wasn’t noticeable, and the rest of the lamp was just as I remembered it…
The blue train on the silver tracks, “Engine No. 9,” the bell I painted white with whiteout to hide its rust, the arm-less little girl in her blue dress and red hat…The flower pattern on the shade (which projected the perfect dome of light)…And the music.
I turned the girl in her blue dress and red hat a few times (the key to the lamp’s music box), and watched her spin around to a sweet familiar melody that can only be plucked out by the mechanical pins of a singular tiny orchestra…
My lamp! It was still there, safe at the home of my permanent address, not yet discarded as it once was, which is how I came to own it.
Garage sailing (rummaging, antiquing) is a pastime now that many people enjoy. Growing up, it was, for my family, a necessity.
Rarely did my parents buy anything new. Everything we owned during the first few years we lived in the states was secondhand. (The first new thing we bought was a set of velour couches in Kermit the Frog green. Yum!)
I don’t remember the garage or yard or actually buying the lamp, but I do remember we were living in St. Louis at the time. I was six.
Since then, it has survived five moves, traveling halfway across the country with me from Missouri to New Jersey, with West Virginia and Pennsylvania in between.
Its lullaby lulled me to sleep nearly every night of my first year in Clayton, Missouri, my first year in a new country. In West Virginia, it sat on a table between my and my grandmother’s bed, near a window that faced those grand eastern Appalachian mountains. In West Virginia, its light was on when I heard the screams of a mountain lion for the first time.
I learned to write short stories, do algebra, memorize lines for my first school play and run a Barbie tea and coffee shop with my dad under its perfect dome of light, in Pennsylvania.
In New Jersey, its light stayed on for as long as I stayed up, writing in my journal after the worst fights with my parents, studying for exams and SAT’s…
I don’t remember when I relegated my lamp to the junk closet. Probably that year I decided I was too old for everything — fake jewelry, denim skirts, blue eyeshadow, living at home, junky toy lamps.
When did its first owner decide she was too old for it? How did the little girl in her blue dress and red hat lose her arms?
I’m 28 now. Live in Manhattan, recycle to a fault and buy organic.
I work for a bank, shun excess material possessions but scour “vintage shops” as a pastime.
I’m still too old for everything, so am searching for new things that have been used, to remind me of feelings and things I had when I was young.