We all collected stuff back in 1947, 48, when I was ten or so. Seashells, matchbooks, playing cards. Playing cards were huge. They were prized for the pictures on the back…we called them trading cards – avidly sorted by categories (sunsets, animals, foreign places)… avidly traded to achieve something – maybe it was large numbers or rareness or some special iconography.
Tiny lamb, c.1988
Addictive these, the smallness of them, the special-ness they seemed endowed with. I had more than 200 cards at one point. Nerdy kids, mostly boys, collected stamps but that was a sanctioned activity. Our collecting wasn’t adult valued. Our stuff wasn’t going to teach us anything or become money-valuable. It was all about the stuffness of the stuff. The change of focus to the small. All collectibles we treasured were small. The possession itself was the power.
I suppose today middleclass children have rooms that look like toyshops. It’s almost an avalanche. Why would they want other more things? My sister and I were privileged, but our toys came in singles. A Coca-Cola was six ounces, and we only had them for birthday parties or a special treat after a haircut or a doctor visit.
My sister hoarded tiny ceramic animals–kittens, bear cubs, lambs. Birthdays were a great occasion to enlarge a collection. Charlotte’s school friends would scour nearby dime stores. (Made in China, made in Occupied Japan).
Then our grandmother Aggie sent her one for a birthday, distinctly uncute, porcelain not bright ceramic – huge by contrast, filing a palm. A lamb from a Northern Renaissance painting, with ancient dirt she called patina accenting its arched nose, matted wool, deepset sacrificial eyes. (No, not this one, but yes this lamb’s relative.)
What had Aggie done! Didn’t she get it. One more instance of her and her daughter our mother’s stubborn rejection of popular culture. Those women didn’t listen to the radio, hum popular songs, hell, they didn’t even go to the movies, not Hollywood ones anyway. All trashy, tacky, mass-market garbage. It was so difficult growing up with these objectors.
And this lamb! It was gross, twice the size of any others in Char’s collection, and it would never go on the dainty mirror shelf where her little cuties sat. Why didn’t Aggie get it?
I saw it again, sixty years later, in Charlotte’s bedroom. Still with its ancient dirt, arched nose, sacrificial eyes.