Wednesday, May 30, 2012

If Cabinets Could Speak

My mother pointed to a photograph of a cabinet she liked in a book on antiques and said, “That’s the one!” She was speaking with a cabinetmaker and asked him to make her an exact copy of the piece of furniture she admired. In due course, the cabinet arrived and took a place of honor in our front hall. Mother tastefully arranged various treasures behind its glass-paneled doors. Being a ‘modern’ piece of furniture, it was even illuminated with tiny lights and looked so warm and welcoming. Although this cabinet cannot reveal all of what it has witnessed over the years, it is symbolic of so many pieces of furniture we all have owned. Each of these pieces has seen so much of the lives of the people who have passed them as they stood by in quiet statuesque solitude.

For me growing up, the cabinet saw the smiles on my sister’s and my face as we raced down the stairs on Christmas morning. It saw the terror in my eyes on the days my report card would arrive in the mail and heard the wrath that ensued from a mother whose underachieving son was a huge disappointment. It witnessed the dogs and the guests and the beautiful flowers that paraded by frequently, smelling the orchids, feeling the teeth of a young puppy gnawing at its very legs and hearing the joyful laughter and sometimes unpleasant remarks that it was privy to.

This cabinet moved after my parents divorced and moved many times subsequently as my mother took it with her from house to house. In every house it had the same tasteful display of her personal treasures. After she died, the cabinet became mine. I filled it with my own stuff, and as I moved through my life, so this cabinet bore witness to another generation of joys and sorrows, of new surroundings and of many magical moments. I hope it has been happy in my custody.

Those tiny lights burned out and the replacements depleted over the years. The cabinet’s interior became dark as the bulbs went out one by one. Finding new bulbs seemed impossible. I had almost given up.

Then one day, as luck would have it, I was driving the Red Baron (my car) through Worcester, Mass., and the oil light came on. Since this had happened before, I knew this time that it meant to pull over immediately and find some oil. I wandered around a bit before finding a service station. The trick was finding my way back to the highway. Well, wouldn’t you know in my wanderings through the town that I passed a store called A proverbial light bulb went off, and I thought perhaps they could help me in my quest for tiny lights for the cabinet. After a few minutes of sifting through catalogs on the computer they located two such bulbs. Of course they were not in stock and on back order. Then, one day they arrived. Rarely have I ever been so excited by a small padded envelope.

The cabinet took on a whole new life. It seemed to thank me for resurrecting its ability to see so many things it had been unable to see for so long. I arranged a whole new group of objects on the newly illuminated shelves. This time, they were a collection of wonderful tea bowls by resident potter Tom Smith. They sparkled like jewels as they overlooked the newly decorated Windsor House Bar Room. The cabinet now watches over my friends and me as we solve the world’s problems from the comfort of the same chairs it watched my mother and her friends do the exact same thing. The conversations that evolve over glasses of ‘oh be joyful’ or a cup of tea are permanently recorded in this stronghold of time immemorial. It gives me a great sense of gratitude and comfort every time I turn on and off its tiny lights.

If we look around our houses and our busy lives, we all have these silent memory banks, which hold so many priceless treasures. These are not always treasures of intrinsic value, but rather of sentimental value. Most will be lost to our own memories, but when we walk by these silent sentinels of our lives, we cannot help but remember from time to time the events that we shared.

I enjoy taking the time to sit quietly, alone sometimes, and to reminisce about days gone by. It brings gratitude back into focus and helps me to remember how lucky I am to have connected with so many people. These connections are what make us human. Talk to your cabinets from time to time. They listen and often they even respond in genuinely comforting ways.