On the outskirts of the city in the opposite direction of our house, every time I drive by, a small Victorian building catches my eye with its massive sign displaying ANTIQUE MALL. Mirroring English architecture of the early 1600s, Queen Anne style, the house is marked with a wrap-around porch and a pediment over portico in the center. For some reason I am drawn to it, and it is not for the antiques they trade. From the top of the roof a skinny turret is stretching its neck towards the sky giving the whole building a spiritual aura; the kind that is usually evoked only by churches.
I find myself gripping the door handle of this mystical building without even making a conscious decision to visit. I expect to be greeted by the musty scent of aged collectibles but instead I am enveloped with an inviting, cozy atmosphere.
Only a few moments pass before my eyes adjust to the darkness of the front room. Positioned to my right is a large vintage curio unveiling hundreds of miniature figurines behind the glass door with buffed hinges and butterfly shaped knobs. Behind an oak counter to my left stands a tiny woman with silver hair dressed old-fashioned but classy. She looks effortlessly put together like she came straight from the turn of the last century, her attire not looking costume-y as I would assume. She fits right in. Perhaps they got her at an antique auction too, was a thought that briefly entered my mind before she approaches me with her soft voice. “Hi! Looking for anything in particular?” “Not really,” I answer brushing the snowflakes off my shoulders “I just always wanted to come in. The interior is larger than I expected” I notice. “Yes,” she smiles “there is more than meets the eye.”
I begin my journey through the rooms.
Each one is set up tastefully with furniture and items matching that certain age and style. You could easily see how much thought and attention to detail was put into the decorating. This was going to take more time than I anticipated. Just when I get to the end of one room another one emerges like the land of Narnia behind the hidden wardrobe door. With each room I am smoothly transported to a different era. Here and there some old lady quietly appears asking if I’m doing all right just to bring me back to reality or maybe I was imagining her, I can’t tell. I willingly let my mind wander fantasizing about life back then, whilst floating between rooms, envisioning myself serving tea in these Royal Doulton blue polka cups on my Duncan Phyfe table and making smart conversations with ladies in fancy dresses and gentlemen with monocles and cylinder hats.
In the kitchen-like room I become a young mother baking a cake, using this brand new gadget - an egg beater with rotating parts that are hand-turned. How fun! My kids are playing on the floor with their wooden cars and fabric dolls, my youngest hanging onto my long skirts with one hand. The unmistakable pungent aroma of cinnamon tickles my nostrils and lingers in the air.
I hasten through the next area feeling like it is inappropriate for me to loiter. This is clearly the gentleman’s room, for it is filled with hunting rifles, guns, tobacco pipes and books with heavy leather covers, a room where ladies are unwelcome.
In the changing room I gently touch the silk and lace garments and hold the Cormwell shoes with a high tabbed front and buckle, wondering how comfortable they are. Of course I stay here a while, what woman wouldn't?
Running out of time I only briefly glance through the remaining rooms while making my way to the exit and firmly promising myself to return soon. Several thin crystalline rays of sunshine come through the west window and reflect on the glass shelf above my head. And that’s when I saw them: a set of ruby red goblets. A sea of dancing diamonds formed by the cascading beams. A loud almost guttural sound leaves my lips; a sound of approval, surprise and delight. My eyes fill with tears and the old lady appears once again asking if I’m all right. “My mom had the same set when I was a little girl” I say, pretending to be bothered by the light that caused my eyes to water. She nods with recognition and quickly disappears leaving me to fight the well of emotions that suddenly overcome me. I don’t know how long I stood there. Familiar faces emerged and filled up the room with laughter. Mom crossed the room and sat next to me on the armrest of the orange chair, the latest fashion of the early 1970s. She wore her best dress, the blue one with large flower prints, worn only on special occasions like today. My aunts and uncles who live in Germany and France came to visit. Mom stroked my hair and in the language that I first learned and asked me to play piano for the guests. I loved to perform only to make my mom proud, instinctively seeking her approval. I played a song or two, earning a joyful round of applause. After my mini concert I was dismissed and mom and dad didn't notice me for the rest of the day. Sitting quietly in the orange chair I listened to exciting conversations the adults were having without grasping the majority of what was being said, but feeling important to be allowed among them. After a while I tuned out, giving up on following their stories. My attention was devoted to the china cabinet in which sunlight glittered over the newest display, a French set of ruby red goblets. On the rare occasions that mom, with vanity, used those beautiful gems I daydreamed of France and the extravagant life my uncle surely must be having. In my juvenile mind the goblets represented prestige.
Strange that something this trivial can bring back the feeling of home but I embrace it to its full extent. Home is where the richness is. Home is where the heart is free to feel.
But wait, when did I grow so old? The things that were new in my childhood are now being branded antiques. Bemused and young at heart I proceed to the counter tightly gripping the vintage egg beater in my hand. Why did I not buy the goblets? I am not certain. Perhaps it is my desire to repeat this experience at another visit. Perhaps I’m too nostalgic to look at them daily. Perhaps I fear they would lose their sparkle. Perhaps…