Christmas Memories of My Mom, the Antique Collector, Dealer and Family Historian

 

My mom and my girls. As an antique dealer, Mom collected a few things, such as elephants, paperweights, dolls, baby feeding dishes and Dresden flowers.

Around this time every year, I get a bit melancholy. It is difficult to think about the upcoming holiday season with any sense of true joy. I lost my mom almost four years ago to a brain aneurysm and my mom’s love of Christmas makes it all the more difficult for me to get my holiday on.

I know that there are many of you in the same boat and that is why I feel comfortable sharing with you. My mom also loved everything that we all embrace; antiques, collectibles and beautiful things with history.

When I was a child we moved every three or four years due to my father being in the oil industry. We lived all over Texas and Louisiana, in Mexico City and Singapore. Our constant relocation afforded Mom the opportunity to accumulate some pretty amazing items.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: We did not find out until after Mom’s passing that she was nationally recognized for her genealogy work. What started as a means to try to trace our American Indian heritage so that I could go to college free of charge turned in to a fulltime hobby.

Some of the paperweights in my mom’s collection.

Many of the pieces in the house I recognize and know the provenance of, such as the pink Italian marble table which was Mom’s first estate sale purchase after we moved to Kansas. The Jumeau doll, Sophie, that her father brought to her after the war, and the sweet porcelain ballerina figurines with Dresden-type lace and nun music box that sat on the organ in my Granny’s home. The beautiful furniture and decorative items that Mom purchased in Souteast Asia and had crated back to America. She also owns a large artifact that they brought back from Mexico when we lived down there. The story on how it was acquired is a little murky.

My father is still very much alive and well and living in their home. In November he turned 81 years young. I go over to clean the house quite often and one day, while dusting, I found little notes attached to certain items. I was thrilled to learn the provenance on quite a few items that have been around one house or another most of my life.

This wonderful little desk would sell in an antique shop for around $150 today but I don’t have it in my heart to sell it to me it is priceless.

Ever since I was a rug rat, my mom had this wonderful, child-sized roll top desk I spent many an hour playing school and boss while sitting at that little desk. It is very similar to a full-sized tambour top desk, only in miniature. The note stuck in one of the cubbyholes told the story about how, when Mom was pregnant with me, she and my Granny were out window shopping one day. Mom saw this desk in an antique shop window and commented on how much she loved it. My Daddy was a student at Texas A&M at the time and they had me on the way, so money was pretty tight. Christmas was just around the corner and, low and behold, on Christmas morning the little desk was under the tree. Granny had used her Christmas bonus money to buy the desk for Mom. This wonderful little desk would sell in an antique shop for around $150 today but I don’t have it in my heart to sell it to me it is priceless.

While in Indonesia, Mom meet a Dutch antique dealer. He took her out in to the jungle where he would just go around knocking on doors and buying items straight from the homeowners. She acquired several beautiful pieces of furniture, antique blue and white, and a very unique ceramic and silver tray that has a decal with what looks like a Russian scene on it. The list is much longer, but I don’t want to bore you anymore than I already have. One of her notes told us that a pair of elephant tables was a gift from the antique dealer because he knew of her love for all things elephant related.

We don’t have many “family heirlooms,” but what we do have are precious to me. Most of the depression glass has tiny chips from years of use, the quilts my Granny made are a little worn and my uncle’s letterman’s jackets have moth holes in them. Yet every single item holds a special memory.

Through all of the genealogy research Mom did over the years, she discovered that one of our ancestors was brought to America—the Carolinas—from England in 1682 as an indentured servant. One summer she traveled throughout the South meeting long lost relatives and on this trip she was given a curved brick. There is a piece of paper glued to the brick which indicates that the brick is from a well built on my ancestor’s land. How awesome is that? She also acquired a small leather handbag that once belonged to her great-great-great-grandmother.

As an antique dealer, Mom collected a few things, such as elephants, paperweights, dolls, baby feeding dishes, Dresden flowers and a beautiful Maastricht pattern named “Tea Drinker.” To this day, every Christmas I purchase a piece to add to the set.

The Maastricht pattern named “Tea Drinker.” To this day, every Christmas I purchase a piece to add to the set.

Besides the tangible items that my mom moved from place to place, I also have our family history—more than 15 years of research that gives my children, grandchild and me some insight on the people we came from on, the generations that molded us, their stories of hardship and triumph, my mom’s effort to make sure that we know our legacy. My provenance.

This time of year, when I am really struggling with the loss of my mom, I take comfort in all of these wonderful “things” and the memories that goes with each of them. Objects are just that, objects, but the memories that each of them holds is irreplaceable and there is not enough money in the world to buy any of these memories.


Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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