What Once Was: Jerome, Charlese, Ellie & Philip

By the time Jerome reached 40 years of age, he had achieved all he wanted in life: A great marriage, children, the best group of friends a guy could ever have, vacations to just about anywhere he could imagine, tickets to every game in town, membership on a couple of high-profile charity Board of Directors, and a very, very lucrative and satisfying career. He was absolutely a success, by anybody’s standard.

The only thing was, Jerome was not the incredibly attractive, athletic man he once was. Women no longer perpetually smiled when speaking to him, nor did gay men linger a minute too long in his company. No one ever remarked, as they did so often in his youth, that he “must” be a fashion model. These days, Jerome was a regular customer of the Big and Tall shops. What little hair was left on his head, he had, at long last, decided to shave off, finally embracing his baldness. And, the “old football injury” gave him a pronounced limp. Orthopedics were all his crippled feet could tolerate. Though his wife protested he had not lost his appeal, Jerome missed making people feel, well, sexy.

So, when a new young clerk at the grocery store asked to see his I.D. before scanning the bottle of wine in his cart, Jerome had to chuckle. He knew it was the gesture of an incorrigible flirt, but secretly, he felt it like an unselfish act of random kindness. It absolutely made his day.

As a child, Charlese and her sister were terrified of their grandfather. He was a deeply bitter and angry man, hardened by every misfortune life could dish out. The girls dreaded weekly Sunday dinners at his home. The rule was to never raise your voice, and to stay out of the way. So, the sisters played outside when the weather was good, and huddled silently in a corner of the living room when the weather was wet and dreary with a couple of books.

On one such wet and dreary Sunday, Charlese and her sister were startled to find their grandfather asleep on the living room couch. Neither had ever seen the man in such a state of repose.

Despite their fear he would wake and yell at them, intense curiosity tempted the sisters to tip-toe over to him, just so they could get a close look. With his eyes closed and every line on his face fallen away; his brow unknit and his scowl slackened, he looked completely different. Almost unrecognizable.

Fifteen years later, at his funeral, as Charlese looked at him in his casket, she thought of that Sunday. He looked very much as he did that day. And though Charlese knew he could not suddenly wake and yell at her, the fear he would was as visceral as when she was a little girl.

Boxes and crates, on top of more boxes and crates, on top of even more boxes and crates filled the large storage unit, all of them stacked nearly to the ceiling, with each filled with expensive and priceless items of a life defined by grandeur and wealth: Statuesque hand carved ivory figurines, Swiss mantel clocks made of mahogany and intricate brass, gold and silver details. Cloisonné vases from China and France. Giant hand loomed Turkish tapestries. Gold plated snuff boxes. Hand embroidered lace and table linens, multiple sets of ornate fine china for a seating of 20 or more, cut crystal bowls and stemware, sterling flatware and serveware, sterling silver and gold-plated candle sticks of all shapes and sizes, and five 3-foot
tall Waterford crystal centerpiece candelabras. To Ellie and her husband Philip, opening a box or crate was like unearthing vast riches of a Pharaoh’s tomb.

Ellie held up a sheet of newsprint used to wrap many of the items: It read, New York, April 15, 1930.

“This stuff has been in storage all this time?”

“I guess,” Philip replied. “My great-great grandparents were the ones who made the family fortune. Probably the ones who accumulated all this stuff.” Philip sliced open a cardboard box and rummaged around.

“According to Dad,” he continued, “his grandfather did everything he could to maintain the family’s wealth, but, he said that’s the same time the federal
income and inheritance tax was, like, made a law. A lot of wealthy families had to sell off and close up shop. Even if some were able to hold on, it didn’t matter, because they ended up getting hit by the Depression. Anyway, that’s what Dad said happened.”

“And, all this stuff, just, what…sat around?” Ellie asked. “You’d think they’d have sold it off if they needed the cash, or whatever.”

“Yeah, well,” Philip held up a large sterling service tray to inspect it. “I guess, but not my family, apparently. Found all this shit in chests and crates in the basement of some cousin’s home after they died, just after World War Two. Dad said Grandpa Bill claimed it, and a judge agreed it was his. For whatever reason, it’s been moved around, ever since.”

“And, you are sure nobody in your family wants any of it?”

“Too bad, right?” Philip said, as held up an even larger sterling silver platter. “I mean, with a little work and polish, all this could be restored, good as new.”

Ellie examined the facets of a cut crystal champagne coupe. “I guess, but, seriously, these days? People only keep stuff like this for sentimental reasons. Maybe that’s why nobody sold it in the first place. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I saw an old fashioned champagne glass like this.”

“Oh, we’re not gonna keep any of it. We should sell it. Somebody will want this stuff. A collector. Museum. Maybe a Hollywood production shop, something.”

Ellie nodded. “But, it’s weird, ya know?” she said. “Standing here, all this amazing stuff, talking about how to get rid of it? I mean, having expensive things like this was such a statement of, I don’t know, whatever. Wealth! and class! Seriously, I can hear your great-great grandparents turning in their grave.”

Fun with vignettes this week! Prompts are: need to see an ID; Some of them, with work and polish, can regain their former shine; when your eyes are closed (https://aooga.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/olwg-85-nigh-on-noon/)

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