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Stuff and more Stuff

May 11, 2014

Mom's Portrait_sm

STUFF and more STUFF

When mom passed 9 months ago it was tragic, but not in the usual way. Her paranoid 97 year old boyfriend with whom she’d shared her final 20 years, barred me from visiting her the last 2 weeks of her life. At the funeral he had instructed the Rabbi not to mention my sister or I or any part of her life after childhood that didn’t contain him. I’m so grateful to my cousin Lisa who walked up to the front in the middle of the service and whispered in the Rabbi’s ear. I could see the red flush his face. “Oh, and of course our condolences to Lillian’s daughters Susie and Carol” he said.

I could write a book about Harry but it would fall into the same category as all stories about cruel people, so why dwell in the underbelly when I could be in my mom’s storage room unpacking boxes stacked to the ceiling, boxes filled with treasures and the occasional incongruous paper maché tray in the form of a frog or a pig. So, 6-8 hours a day of Christmas Mornings everyday for the foreseeable future. Here’s a picture of what the room looks like AFTER giving most of the great stuff to New Orleans Auction and filling up a whole nother storage room to the max.

storage room_sm

I’ve learned so much about my mom. I knew she fancied single flower stems in long-necked glass vases, 4-6 of them lined up, each holding a perfect golden Freesia or raspberry Alstroemerias. What I didn’t know was how much she loved the glass vases and/or how much she loved to shop. Not 4 or 6 or even 12 glass vases, but at least 100 and counting. Some antique, some contemporary, some looking like they came from a chemist supply company which I wouldn’t put past her. She went to shipping supply houses to buy equipment for our stainless steel kitchen that looked like no one elses back in those Mad Men days.

(I think Mad Men, as a perfect descriptor for a whole era, is going to stick.)

Mom was 4 years old when she entered the Jewish Childrens Home, sent down from NYC when her parents died. At 16 she left the Home and got a secretarial job. At 19 she married my father. She joked that it was a tough decision seeing as her boss had just offered her a $2 raise.

It’s strange now to see my little apartment transform as I unpack mom’s boxes of Export China, fine silver and china, and 18th century furniture. The few pieces I’m keeping sidle up to my funky folk art; Mexican religious paintings on tin and a carved head of Chairman Mao sit next to a silk damask covered French chair. A spare blue modern couch looks askance at the neighboring mahogany side table inlaid with a curvy acanthus leaf design, a graphic spotlight on our differences. Although she grew up in an orphanage, Lillian saw herself as a princess. I on the other hand, grew up like a princess but always felt like an orphan. Mom imagined that I would marry Prince Philip. An American southern Jewish girl in the House of Windsor, an inspired match. Queen Elizabeth would surely have been missing Diana about then.

In the auction catalogue they used a picture of the large portrait of mom that hung in our living room. She’s wearing a strapless black velvet gown and a choker of pearls, and she appears to have a 19″ waist. Her eyebrows are boldly arched and she’s sitting pretty. A blond wooden chest with a silver crest also sat in our living room. It contained 6 perfect little drawers, each piece of silver and gilt nestled into a spot molded perfectly for that particular knife, fork, spoon, or grape cutter, asparagus server, or crumb sweeper and tray. It was utter gorgeousness and I opened that chest and it’s drawers everyday until adolescence intruded and silver lost its glow temporarily.

The magic silver chest is Lot 209

Silver chest w open drawers_sm

Going through mom’s possessions is like reading her biography and I haven’t even opened the boxes of photos and letters. Every single life on this planet could be a book and I think my mom’s would be an illustrated one because really her driving force was Beauty.

Chinese Fruit Coolers copy

New Orleans Auction Galleries   510 Julia Street   New Orleans, La. 70130

Auction: Saturday, May 17 (10 am, Lots 1-605)

Auction Sunday, May 18 (10 am, Lots 606-1138)

Evening Reception: Thursday, May 15 (5-8pm)

Exhibition: May 3 through May 16 (9am-5pm except Sundays)

The magic silver chest is Lot 209.

The whole catalog can be viewed online at:






  1. Daniel Investment Company permalink

    I enjoyed the descriptions in your article, and please know that you are a gifted writer. Seeing the portrait of your mother brought back 65 year old memories.


  2. Thomas Prager permalink

    Your best post yet! You certainly are a gifted writer. Sad that she treasured “things” more than people and couldn’t give you the love you deserved – probably a carryover from life in the orphanage where one can never be special, but in later life she could have special “things.” But I appreciate your humorous take on the situation. Did I ever tell you that my father was adopted from a Jewish orphanage in Minnesota? He real last name was Goldman, German derivation I suppose.

    • Prager you’ve been on my mind, how are you? I’m just seeing this. How interesting that your dad, my mom, came out of Jewish orphanages. Can’t even imagine how traumatic that must have been. We must talk!

  3. Marylisa permalink

    Love the gorgeous picture of your mom, and love your poignant, beautiful descriptions.

    • Mary Lisa, I am just seeing this 2 years late! Thank you for reading and commenting. Hope all is well in beautiful Mill Valley. I was talking just last night about the funniest film I ever saw. It was at MV Film Festival, i think black and white, Polish about a bunch of people who stowaway on a ship to escape and when discovered they try to make it right with the captain by putting on a theater production. Polster and I cried with laughter the whole time. Would give anything to know the name of that movie so i could laugh that hard again. Love to the whole gang. CP

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