Bargains. I love bargains. I’m not sure why. My mom liked a bargain, but love would be too strong a word for her. She was kind of picky. Maybe more than kind of. She liked what she liked, and if it was a good deal, that was dandy. If it wasn’t, it didn’t matter. She saved her shekels and bought it anyway. Value, she knew, should not be dictated by a price tag.
I have a few precious things that were my mom’s, besides the other people in her love-circle, who also belong to me. People fit in their own category. But a few earthly items that were hers are mine now. One is a lovely Asian figurine of a tattoo artist painting a Geisha’s back.
You need to know a bit about my mom’s background to appreciate that she owned such a piece. Mom was at the tail end of a passel of kids born in Blackfoot Idaho just before the Great Depression. They didn’t go hungry, thankfully, but that was because of the resourcefulness of her parents, their work ethic, and a large healthy garden and a bustling chicken coop. Their clothing was home made, their shoes well worn and passed down. Her father and brothers cut blocks of ice from the snake river in the winter, stored it in saw dust in their large ice barn, then sold it for peoples’ ice boxes in the summer. Her dad was entrepreneurial by nature, and his fingers were always in some new venture or another. He liked bargains like I do.
But Mom, known to her family as Teeny (my cousins still call her Aunt Teen), had a mind that drifted past Blackfoot and the ranch in the desert and the old ice house. She danced and flirted and bought herself the finest shoes. She stitched herself the prettiest dresses. Uncommon ones, by her own design.
She sashayed down the sidewalk in Idaho Falls, her slender ankles balancing on her leather heels, and peered in the window fronts of the stores her mother would not afford. One day, she told me, she spied two lovely hand painted figurines set on a mahogany table under warm spotlights. Every time she visited Idaho Falls she stopped to admire them. She told me she saved up her spud money, the earnings from gleaning the crops after the machines had harvested, and walked into that store and purchased those two exotic figures. Even though she had no place to put them, she held enough hope of such a place some day.
My whole childhood holds those Asian artisans in the background; sitting on the old two level blond oak corner table, and on the nook shelves in the dining room on Old Clairton Road, then on the entry table or hutch in the apartment on East Bruceton.
When our dad skipped town and left us in the lurch, Mom set to work and made pretty good money. New items took places on our furniture, and eventually the figurines were placed on a dresser in one of the bedrooms. When I was grown with a home of my own and a bunch of kids of my own, my mom gifted me with the one remaining piece. She wrote on the bottom of it, at my request, so we would all know the history:
Purchased in Idaho Falls before World War II. Hand molded – fingerprints are evident on the inside. I know because I broke the scroll painter similar to this. Natural dyes for coloring that run when wet. I love the tender detail – and his hands.
Much love ~ M.
I, too, love the beautiful detail on this piece. I love the places where it was evident that Mom tried to clean it with water, then stopped herself when she saw the paint smearing. I appreciate the artistry, the detail, the positioning, the restrained strength in the arms of the tattoo artist, and the graceful elegance and resignation in the bare backed woman.
I’m sure there would have been people who judged my mother as a little loose…a Mormon gal from a little Idaho town who had, sitting on her living room table, the naked back of a woman straddled by an imposing man. But it never bothered me. I stared at it every time I had the chore of dusting the dining room shelves. She had taught me to dust it carefully. A child learns to admire what her mother finds beautiful. I adore her for spending her spud money on art.
I value this lovely piece of artistry, antique now, that passed through the doors of the classiest shop in Idaho Falls in the hands of my mother. It sits beautifully on the étagère in my entry hall. But the real value to me is underneath, where my Mom’s handwriting is still strong, and her personality is evident. People who knew our mom admire her from a warm but distant perspective, but we who share her blood knew more. We knew all about her. We saw where the paint had smeared, and we saw the fingerprints of God on her undersides. We knew her admiration for so much more than the necessities of life. We knew her strengths and weaknesses that formed the lovely dimensions that defined her. She laid herself bare backed in the hands of life, and we love the tender details.