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  • The most meaningful object in my house? Oh man, that's a tough one. There are so many. There's the bed that Dad was literally born in, and that Mom slept in for at least the last fifty years of her life. There's the other bed that Mom slept in as a little girl, and that we slept in whenever we went down to visit Mom in South Carolina her last eleven years that she lived there. Both beds occupy our two upstairs guest rooms, and a whole host of memories.

    Then there's the two platform rockers, that Dad reupholstered and refinished at least three times in his lifetime. The first time, he found a little loose wooden spindle along the bottom front of one the chairs, and as he reached in and spun that spindle with his fingers, he distinctly remembered being a toddler, crawling around, and reaching in to spin that spindle. He decided to leave it loose, and it is still loose to this day. I spin it, and think of my Dad, as a toddler, and as an adult lovingly refinishing the platform rocker set that belonged to his grandfather and grandmother, Martin and Christine Hager.

    Another discovery he made while refinishing the rockers was the scorched wood at the bottom of Martin's rocker. This brought back the memory of his first discovery of fire. The time he discovered the matches that Grandpa Hager left on the table beside the chair in the second floor library where he would sit smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper. Dad struck a match, then dropped it into the can with the discarded newspapers. He struck another, then another. When the flames began to flicker up out of the can, it scared him, so he ran out of the room, closing the door behind him. Fortunately, the fire was discovered before it brought the whole house down in flames, and young James learned about fire.

    It would not be his first lesson. He apparently was responsible for three or four fires in that house. Even as an adult, he did some scary things with electric wires that convinced me he must have had angels looking out for him, as none of them ever caused any major problems. Back to the rockers - when he discovered that blackened wood, he forever preserved it under several coats of lacquer, and upon close inspection, it is still preserved there. These rockers still sit in my living room, by the fireplace. They date back to the 1880's or so. Generations worth of memories come back, as one sits in either of those rocking chairs.

    Another object that means quite a lot to me is the roll-top desk that Dad used to sit at to do all of his "business" things, growing up. You knew not to ever bother him when he sat at that desk, doing his level best to hold this big family together and keep it under house and home. It sits immediately to my left as I sit in the easy chair that also came from Mom's house, when she'd moved into the smaller apartment in Independent Care.

    Then there's the Victrola, the Victor Talking Machine, that's been in the family since the year before Dad was born, 1917, and that still works, still spins those heavy 78 rpm disks, the music machine that hadn't worked for 35 years before my brother Brian turned it on its side and out of the crankshaft fell a big, fat pencil that Dad's little sister Jeannie had put in there and long since forgotten about. When we picked it up from my brother Jim in Connecticut four years ago, we took it on its first international journey, driving up into Canada with Victor laying on his side in the back of our van. This piece has so many interesting stories associated with it, I could go on for hours.

    I have all of these wonderful reminders of my parents, and my family, and all these pieces of furniture that carry so many memories of growing up in a house full of meaningful objects, each of which Dad had a story about, stories he would tell over and over and over again, but which I never grew tired of hearing. Even when I couldn't stand the man, and he had very little tolerance for me, I loved his stories. It was a common ground for us. We both loved stories.
  • Yet, with all of these great pieces of furniture and stories, it is not a piece of furniture that carries the most meaning for me. It is a piece of art. This scene of the Rock of Gibraltor was originally painted in 1890 by my Great Great Aunt Marie. Marie traveled all over Europe, with her big steamer trunks, her paints and her art, and she left us not one, but two originals of this scene. This is the original original. I've had this since Mom moved from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, down to Pawley's Island, South Carolina. Brother Chris has the "second original", a duplicate scene that Marie painted twenty years later, as a wedding gift to my paternal grandfather and grandmother - Martin's youngest daughter and Dad's mother. It is much brighter than this one, but I am partial to the original, darker scene. It really speaks to me.

    The picture is so big, it was hard to find a suitable wall in the house to hang it on, but we finally settled on the wall in this spare room, which now has the bed Mom grew up sleeping in. This picture is my most prized possession. Long before I learned the actual story of the painting, it spoke stories to me, in it's dark, mysterious scene, with strange people rowing in a boat - what were they doing? The sky with the moon poking out from the clouds.

    It's a dark, industrious scene, much like the Pittsburgh that I grew up in, a dark, industrious town, then full of steel mills and very little sun that poked through the clouds of smoke that filled the skies of my youth. I'm sure that had a lot to do with my love affair with the sun, and the sea. It was a journey upon the sea, nine years ago, when I came up topside at 5:00 a.m., well before the dawn, and looking out over the foc'sle of the ship, I gazed upon this very scene, some 115 years later, as the ship made its way to Gibraltor. The Rock still looked the same - the scene was still dark and mysterious, though slightly more modern than this.

    As Dad lay dying in a hospital bed set up in his living room in Cherry Hill, this very painting hung on the wall behind his bed. He looked up at it many times, feeling connected to those who'd gone before him, as he prepared for his journey to be reconnected with them all. This object, more than any other, connects me to my father, to my family, and to all those who went before - and who I believe I will one day see again, on the distant shore of a mysterious place.

    Yes, this is the most meaningful object in my house full of meaningful objects. I know - they're just "things". But, in my mind, they are so much more.
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