Monday night TV at our house is PBS and Antiques Roadshow. First, the original show that is recorded in Great Britain, which is especially fun because those antiques are really old. Next is the American version with relatively newer antiques, followed by a new show this season, Market Warriors, which is about four buyers who hit flea markets and sale houses to find treasures that are then auctioned off, hopefully for a greater price than what the buyers spent to purchase the items.
The fun in watching these shows is to see if that stuff around the house that you thought was junk is just junk, or if that loved item that some ancestor was sure was valuable, really is valuable. I like to test my knowledge and see if I can recognize the item before the expert tells us what it is. I know what I like, but I also know that most of the ‘tells’ that indicate value or worthlessness are mostly Greek to me. If I can learn by watching and guess the designer or manufacturer then maybe I can move beyond my ignorance. That isn’t the real reason though, because ignorance isn’t that big a deal; everyone is ignorant about something. To change that, you just have to learn.
But can I move beyond an upbringing that was filled with cast-offs, cheap, mass-produced functionally adequate furniture, clothing, housewares – all devoid of any real beauty or value? Can I move out of the cookie-cutter suburbs and into something that actually has some class? We had no money, no class and no fine culture. Can I cover up that basic beginning with a coat of sophistication like you’d cover over a cheap, pressed cardboard backed dresser with a new finish? Will I then feel valuable? Will I then BE valuable?
And what is real value? Mother grew up with even less that we had when I was a child and she loves these shows as well. Is that because she sees the beauty in things, whether of value or not? Like the three-quarters finished paint by number canvases we found when going through stored boxes looking for the oil paintings she did years ago. We hung her oil paintings in the house and I sat the paint by number canvases in the box for Goodwill. Mother took them out of the box and keeps saying she is going to get some double stick tape and put them, unframed, up on the walls of her bedroom; walls that already have hanging on them the original oil paintings that she did as well as oils done by friends; walls that also have outdated calendars with pretty pictures but which can’t be thrown away because they’re pretty.
Why would she even care about the old paint by number paintings? Is she able to see some beauty that I can’t? Doesn’t she know how tacky they will look on the walls? Actually, I can see the beauty of the scene, if you stand far enough back that you don’t key in on the paint by number aspect, but there’s no monetary or resell value to it. So, why keep it? Why clutter up the full walls with one more thing that is cheap and mass-produced?
The clutter that covers every space in the house drowns out all beauty for me. It’s too much. It threatens to close in on me, so my mind’s eye tries to shut it out and it becomes some dark, busy background that drives out the air and leaves me feeling stifled and I find myself breathing shallowly, barely existing.
And then, some person on Antiques Roadshow brings out their treasured tchotchke and the appraiser tells them it’s worth hundreds or maybe thousands and as I look at it my childhood memory is jogged. Mother turns me and says that the one she has, that is just like the one on TV is in the cedar chest, and “don’t forget to keep it, don’t send it to Goodwill.”
My breathing expands, I take in more air. There is value, right here in all the clutter. Right here in my classless childhood. Not really because there’s something here that’s worth some monetary amount, but because Mother, whose family survived the Dust Bowl, the depression and years as itinerant workers, recognized value and held on to it. And I see that she has a classiness that I had missed before. A classiness that has nothing to do with things and everything to do with the intrinsic value we each have. We’re God’s creation. We are the thing of value. All the stuff that fills up life, whether it’s sophisticated and expensive or classless and cheap is just that, stuff. Once again I see that I do have value, and with that reminder, I have hope that I can look beyond the things and recognize the true beauty around me and the real value within.