I love old things. And it is not just because I am old.
My love of old things began as a young girl, following around Mom as she rummaged through thrift stores and antique shops. But the pivotal event, the moment that got me hooked on all things old, occurred when I was fifteen and Mom took me to an auction.
I had never experienced anything so exciting in my life. There was beautiful furniture that was carved and worn and dark and filled with love. Mirrors with bevels and age spots that made you look the tiniest bit more interesting when you looked at yourself in the mirror. Books bound in leather and lamps with silk shades. I loved it all and felt like it loved me back.
Fortunately, I had some money that day at the auction. Not much, but some. I had started working at age fourteen, gift wrapping at a department store back when there was no law against hiring fourteen-year-old kids. Mom explained what I needed to do if I wanted to bid on something at the auction. I did want to bid. Oh boy, did I want to bid. I watched, and waited and then I did it. I bid and I won. At age fifteen I bid at auction and bought myself a mahogany armoire with an oval beveled mirror and brass hooks inside and a skeleton key for the drawer.
It all seems sort of surreal now that I think back on it. I wonder if I thought the armoire was going to give me access to new worlds like in one of my favorite books The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I wonder if the other bidders let me win because I seemed so young to be bidding on an armoire. Why WAS I bidding on an armoire at that age?
The wardrobe I bought that day so very long ago stands proudly in my dining room today. It isn’t of particularly good quality or of any value as an antique, but I have never wanted to part with it all these years. At one point I added shelves inside and it stored our television, when TVs were so deep and ugly I couldn’t stand to have it showing. Now the shelving is quite handy as storage for candles and placemats. But mostly, my armoire is still with me because it represents something that became a big part of my life over the years. My passion for all things old.
I was in San Francisco recently, visiting Baby Girl while she is working there for the summer. I went down to Union Street to walk around and poke in the shops and get myself some lunch. I wasn’t looking for old things since Union Street is not a place for antiques (and is not in Union Square by the way.) It is mostly little gift shops, clothing stores and jewelry boutiques. I was wandering through a gift store that had candles and napkins and trays mixed in with a bit of jewelry and shopping totes. And then I saw them. Eight spectacular cut-crystal cocktail glasses. I knew immediately even though there wasn’t another antique in sight. I picked one up and looked it over. Yep. Spectacular. I inquired, “Are these vintage?” I won’t bore you with the exceedingly long explanation of the shopkeeper about the glasses but yes, she bought them for herself from an estate sale and then realized that they take up a lot of cupboard space in a small city apartment so she decided to sell them.
I hesitated at the price. Not really. It took me exactly three seconds to rationalize that it was my birthday in a week so I needed them. I had spent an entire day bidding on potential birthday gifts for myself at a Christie’s auction the week prior and ended up with zilch. Zero. Nada. Not the 60 dinner plates, not the 97 crystal glasses, not a painting nor a box. Not even a handbag. Nothing. Other bidders obviously wanted Huguette Clark’s old things more than moi. So this was my replacement for Huguette. They looked like something she would have loved.
Thirty minutes later, (it took the shopkeeper FOREVER to wrap each one and pack it for me while I heard her life story in between glasses) I walked out with my purchase. I was so excited about them that everyone I talked to that day heard about them. When I visited The Legion of Honor the next day, I swore they had similar glasses on exhibit from the 1700’s. Okay, maybe my imagination was getting the better of me. But my glasses do have that lovely purplish tint of old leaded crystal.
I took my treasures home to Santa Barbara and unwrapped them. Then, speaking of OLD, I got to thinking about what cocktail to serve in them on my upcoming birthday. I remembered a wonderful little aperitif I served at my 40th birthday which was so many years ago I forgot all about it until now. My 40th was celebrated with an all-day, all-night girlfriends party starting with manicures by the pool and ending with a pajama party dinner. In an effort to keep my guests from getting too tipsy before dinner, Hubby chose an afternoon cocktail of French Lillet on ice with lemon curls. It was refreshing and light and I thought it would be perfect for my new (Old) glasses!
I decided it was necessary to have a trial run so I could envision my birthday cocktail in my beautiful crystal glasses.
But let’s be serious. Being born on the 4th of July, my birthday beverages don’t usually end up being light, nor are they served in antique cocktail glasses. Here is what will really happen.
But the Lillet is in the fridge and the lemons are waiting so I can have my Toast to the Old after the fireworks have settled. Won’t you join me?
“I love everything that’s old–old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.” -Oliver Goldsmith
Toast to the Old
Fill the prettiest cocktail glass you can find halfway with ice.
Add 2 or three curls of lemon peel.
Pour well-chilled Lillet to the brim and lift your glass in a Toast to the Old.