Our house is for sale and the first “open” started five minutes ago. I’d left it too late to escape. I grabbed a magazine, retreated to the veranda and pretended to be invisible.
It took a long time to decide to sell our house. So long, in fact, our children threatened to dig out their dusty “powers of attorney” and sell the house while we were at the shops. First, we had to “de-clutter”.
To “de-clutter” means to throw out your stuff, but keep everyone else’s.
Kids’ stuff is sacred. You need to pack and store it in case they ever want it again – school yearbooks, Lego, deflated footballs, blazers, photograph albums and DVDs. We even packed Bill and Sam, the garden gnomes who are close friends of our granddaughters, Sweet Pea and Captain Smiley.
Everything else we painted.
The house looked great. The delicate leadlights, the open fireplaces and the timber floors were irresistible. I’d buy the place myself if I didn’t already own it.
On the veranda, I eavesdropped from behind my magazine. “I just love it. I love the whole place,” said a female voice.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good. Close to the school and no lights to the bridge,” answered a male voice.
“Exactly,” I murmured.
“Oh, my God!” said the female voice. “Would you look at that china cabinet! Have you ever seen anything so ugly? Imagine this dining room without it. It would be fabulous!” Their voices faded as they moved to the kitchen.
I admit the china cabinet is old-fashioned, but I like to think it stops just short of being ugly, thanks to its curved glass walls and the two brass dragons that hold up a railing round the top. It was my mother’s pride and joy.
William Morris, an English textile designer, said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
“Where does that leave the china cabinet?” I asked the MOTH (the Man of the House).
“At St Vincent de Paul!” he said, without missing a beat.
The kids aren’t big fans either. When it arrived from Canada, the boys missed being able to kick footballs around the living room.
“You don’t want to be the first one to break the glass in the china cabinet!” I warned them. It turns out they weren’t. I did it while vacuuming the carpet. Who knew bevelled glass was so expensive?
The china cabinet has a story. My mother was 17 when she received her first pay packet. She counted out money for rent and a small sum for tram fare and stockings. The rest she used to lay-buy a gift for her father and stepmother.
After the best part of a year, she presented them with a second-hand china cabinet. She hoped her stepmother, a dour Scotswoman not given to displays of affection, would like it.
Years later, I grew up in the same house. The cabinet stood where it always had, crammed with treasures. There was a souvenir plate from Niagara Falls, a miniature Tower of London and ornate dinner services with gravy boats and finger bowls.
Knick-knacks and oddments filled every nook and cranny – a jug from Ireland, a doll from Italy, a figure of a boy with “Made in Occupied Japan” stamped on the bottom.
Two World Wars and a Depression left their mark. Mum thought most things too pretty or fragile to use, but on rainy days, I was allowed to take a treasure from a shelf to look at. It was like being let loose in the British Museum. I’m surprised I didn’t have to wear gloves.
When I ask my kids who wants it after I’m gone, the room empties pretty quickly. Reagan, Flynn, Patrick and Courtenay want Ruff Red to have it. In fact, they insist.
So I’ll take it with me for now. And on rainy days, I’ll let Sweet Pea and Captain Smiley play gently with some of its treasures.
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This story originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.