Mane Ingredient

Family History / Houses / Nostalgia / Personal History

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, when I was about three years old, Nana, my favorite grandmother, brought a load of furniture to Asheville in her big red Antique van (a favorite childhood conveyance of mine, what with the back stacked with furniture blankets, the promise of being able to explore a fancy house while the adults haggled, and the general Carter/Reagan era obliviousness for the need for seatbelts allowing me to roll around and practice somersaults on said blankets while Nana was speeding up and down Interstate 81). She was likely headed to an antique show downtown at the civic center, sponsored by an organization I spent my childhood mishearing as the Be Dust Club, and had the van mostly packed with high and low boys, Windsor chairs, and a lot of porcelain I was not allowed to touch yet. She’d also brought me a present. A chest of drawers, dating from an unspecified, yet breeches-forward historical era somewhere, my brain registered, between dinosaurs and airplanes.

The chest of drawers was pretty unremarkable by three-year old standards. Brown box. Three drawers. Stumpy legs. The best part were the drawer pulls, which were imprinted with lion’s heads. I took this to be a direct nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” my near-singular obsession at the time. But I was chest was very special. Very old. I would have to take very good care of. Such good care, that it the chest would not go in my bedroom, but in the dining room of the old house on Westwood, which was where all the nicest things in the house went. I found this to be a little disconcerting. I was a kid. If it’s my present, shouldn’t I be able to have it.

“You’ll have it one day,” I was promised. “When you’re old enough to appreciate it. When you’re old enough to take care of it. When you’re a grown-up.”

Mom kept linens in the chest. Sometimes old photo albums. I liked the mystery of the drawers. Lace edged napkins. Brightly colored table clothes. A box of rose shaped birthday candle holders stored on a blue velvet pillow. Napkin rings like bangle bracelets. I was gently, and sometimes more forcefully, discouraged from going through the drawers, a favorite activity.  I wasn’t to mess up the things inside. I wasn’t to pull too hard at the drawers. My drawers. The chest was fragile. So I talked to the lions. I named them. Clockwise from top: Lionel, Franklin, Roy, Dennis, Victor, and Tangerine. Tangerine was my favorite.  When I was older, I’d come in the door by the chest from elementary school, and I’d try to give Tangerine a good pet. He often seemed lonely and kind of chilly. I worried that Franklin was mean to him.

When I went got my first apartment, in college, I didn’t expect that the chest would be forthcoming. That was the kind of shithole where it became necessary to post rules about where cut hair should go, what could and not be done with common kitchen implement, and why the bathroom and the fire escape were not built for the same functions. Four or five addresses later and about sixteen years later, I started bugging my mother about the chest. I might have even bugged Nana to bug my mother about the chest. I was in reasonably stable housing situation. I didn’t have a roommate any more. My friends didn’t leave hair dye prints on the bathroom tile and would sometime even ask if I had coasters. No one had Sharpie-d a wall in at least a decade.  And besides, how was Tangerine holding up? Could I be confident he wasn’t lonely? Mom hedged. She didn’t have a new chest to put in my chest’s place. And besides, I didn’t have that much room in my house. Where would I put it?  I’d find a place, I thought.

Last week, my parents came into town in advance of my birthday, the back of my stepfather’s Jeep stuffed with furniture blankets. It wasn’t quite as much fun or space to somersault as the the Red Antique van, but they were able to squeeze in the chest, which had been languishing in a storage room since mid-pandemic. We got the chest into the dining room, where it fit neatly against the inside wall.

All six lions, still brassy and accounted for.  Tangerine, for his part, looks happy to be home.  I’ll do my best to look out for him now that I’m finally a grown-up.

The Author

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