“And yesterday pedaling down 4th Avenue, between the stalls and the bookshops, the sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront. And inside the air was thick with the past as dust settled onto his heart. And here for a moment is every place in the world…” – “Ideas Are Like Stars” (1996) – Mary Chapin Carpenter.
It’s a curious thing…things, that is. Most of us treasure an item held dear, a keepsake, a memento, or heirloom. The thing of personal great admiration might not be valuable to anyone who walks by, but a gold mine nonetheless. Am I right? It might consist of an old dime store ring made of plastic. The item could be as simple as an old grass-stained baseball with fragile stitches having lost some of its grip. Then again, it may be the pocketknife once used to carve your initials in the bark of a tree with a first love. Maybe it’s a faded ticket stub representing a memorable event, now a part of history. One thing is for sure. If you’ve kept it, it is a prize of the heart.
Not long ago my wife, Michelle, inherited an old curio once owned by her late grandmother. She grew up seeing it resting alongside the kitchen wall in her grandparent’s home.
I never thought about the word “curio.” As you imagined, it comes from the word “curious.” And isn’t it though?
Shortly after it was brought into our living room, she had it filled with a collage of items I was unfamiliar with. Nothing about each element seemed to relate to the others. It was truly a mixed bowl of nuts. Michelle handled each piece with the utmost care. After explaining each article, dusted and placed carefully on the shelves, I asked if I could include some items of curiosity from my past. She quickly agreed, as long as she approved of them. Somehow I knew my old Kempo boxing gloves and my 1970’s Bruce Lee posters were not going to make the cut.
Come, sit on my couch. Here’s a cup of java for you. Allow me to give you a quick curio tour. You may discover you are among the most curious.
In the feature photo above the title, there are three items of particular interest displayed on top of the curio. The American flag with the bald eagle is made of porcelain. My Uncle John Brown was on the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, along with his brother, Gordon Brown. My Uncle John passed away in 2002. He was a WWII naval war hero. I had the great honor of giving the eulogy at his memorial service with many Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance. His daughter, my cousin, kindly gave this ornament to me. There were a total of four altogether, one at each corner edge of his flag draped coffin. The red bird house was part of a sweet flower arrangement sent to me from an old family friend from Wisconsin when I spent last December in the hospital. It kept me warm deep inside while in recovery from an unanticipated quadruple bypass. The rose-glass vase was a wedding gift to my wife’s parents back in 1957.
On the top shelf sits some plates from family holiday dinners past. Art runs in the clan. The light blue floral plate, in the back-right, was painted by my grandmother-in-law. The bejeweled miniature Cinderella pumpkin carriage, with a removable top, has a very special meaning. While standing on the edge of a cliff-side sightseer’s perch, across the canyon from the beautiful Turner Falls in Oklahoma, I presented it to Michelle. When she pulled the stem, opening the top, she found an engagement ring. She said yes. (By the way, the wheels work.) Over to the left, a small file drawer stocked with, what she calls, Fruit of The Spirit Rocks.
Straight out of scripture (Galatians 5:22-23) and onto these small stones. Michelle is a highly talented artist. This idea was something new to her at the time she painted the project. I would point out here how each stone is different than the rest. Created on rock, symbolizing permanence, stability and eternal vision. Each fruit of The Spirit is seen as enduring, like a stone. Not one is like another, in exact size and shape. Not unlike each word describing the fruit of The Spirit which God lavishes upon those who trust in Him, are very different in works and content, although related. Given love when there is a lack of it. Given self-control when drowning in a tantalizing culture. Given gentleness when the mob screams profanities in our ears. Given goodness when oppressed by mean-spirited actions. Given faithfulness when feeling the urge to run from what is difficult. Given kindness when the days of rudeness seems to prevail. Given patience when knee-jerking overreaction is common. Given peace when the rapids of rage can be the order of the day. Given joy when fickle happiness is mislabeled. First, we are given, then we give.
From top to bottom, the third shelf is arranged with an assortment of breakables. On the left, a prize of mine. As a singer, I have performed lots of Barry Manilow material in my life. This handmade ceramic sculpture, The Piano Player by Dino Bencini of Florence, Italy, was on the album cover of his Tryin’ To Get The Feeling album from 1975. My mom bought the statue for me when I was 16 years old. To me, it appeared to be a caricature of a 1970’s Manilow at the piano. Michelle’s late grandfather was a pastor for decades. The gold clock on the right was given to him by one of his congregations in recognition of his lifelong pastoral service. The figurines surrounding the clock also came from a late aunt who held them near and dear to her heart. We were told she kept them displayed wherever she lived, including the nursing home, which was her last residence. They were a gift from her husband long ago. These delicate, exquisite pieces are Bisque “Paulus” figurines, hand-painted and made in Occupied Japan shortly after WWII. In the middle of the shelf are some favorite novels. Among the stack are classics like, David Copperfield, Les Miserables and Pilgrim’s Progress.
The second shelf from the bottom is most curious indeed, at least to me. Cradling various ornamental balls of wicker, rope and glass of assorted sizes, is an antique dark wicker basket. No one is sure what it has held through the past century. We do know my wife’s great-grandmother brought it with her when she migrated to Oklahoma in a covered wagon. To the right is a plaque with the word, “Grace”. It is a stark reminder of favor given without earning the gift. Beneath it, and to its very definition, books on “nature and of nature’s God” (Declaration of Independence) like the bounty of the world’s species of flowers. At the head of the stack, an old 1931 hymnal, worn, but gently used with its yellowed pages of the greatest songs from the Christian faith of that day.
The bottom shelf holds two patchwork quilts. Just the sight of them grants visions of old maternal love and care by worn hands that rocked generations to sleep at night by candlelight. The top quilt was made by my mother-in-law.
Maybe I’m alone on this. More times than I can count, I learn of eternal things when I gaze at something temporal long enough. “…And here for a moment is every place in the world…” Mary Chapin Carpenter may have something solid in the lyric. Our furniture sits across the room from the curio, so my line of sight browses its shelves quite often.
Just like the pieces of collectibles, gently placed within the walls of the curio, you and I are not so different. The shelves represent a potpourri of makes, styles, colors and uses. We are all created differently with various bents. Even our colors, races and careers are like a juggle of humanity in the atmosphere. The utmost love and care surrounds each of us. We are created on a collection of foreign soils and clay. We read each other from diversified lands, cultures and political structures. Our stripes are unique to ourselves. Yet, it is the Creator who spun the family of humankind to be where and who we are. He placed us by His wisdom and grace. We are all resting in God’s curio with only the clearest walls of glass for a view of perfection. The treasures in our living room curio don’t bother with unrest or squirming. They are all well placed, like each of us. All persons have their purpose, their history and artistry, all of whom are cared for by design from the greatest of love. He is the Potter, we are the clay. He is the Tailor, we are the cloth. He is the Sculpturer, we are the lively stones. He is the Spirit, we are the fruit etched in rock. He is the Author and Publisher, we are His story. Because He is the Clock-maker who holds the times, we are offered a place beyond the clocks, guided by the synchronized rotations and revolutions of the planets.
Who knew a curio could house so much fuel for the race?
“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called…” – Paul – Romans 9:20-24a (NIV)