On the left, a glass prism, its angled spire roughly chipped. In the center, a battered doorstop. On the right is a fragile celluloide swan, remnant of my babyhood.
The heavy doorstop, an elephant, was made in two identical halves. When he was newly formed tusks and a tail were tucked somehow between and held together. When I was a child, when we still lived in my grandfather's house, the elephant braced open the parlour door. Even then he was bandaged, a strip of now grubby, faintly flowered muslin stitched around his middle over a binding of twine--likely some of the "saved string" that my grandfather thriftily unraveled from the tops of feed sacks, wound around the paper tags and stuffed into a large Prince Albert tobacco can--all handy when a bit of mending was needed.
The scrap of red cloth, now so rotted and frayed, was wound under the elephant's chin and over his back, secured with more stitching. In his days of shabby glory I recall the fabric as still a sturdy red swath which neatly hid the earlier mendings.
The parlour sat at the south west end of the farmhouse. My uncle believed it had been one of first two rooms of the house to be built and surely the wide painted floorboards attested to an earlier incarnation. Part of the floor was covered with an ingrain carpet, patterned in flowery swirls of dark gold, blue and green against a dull red background. My grandmother's upright piano had pride of place, flanked by a plaid-cushioned loveseat and matching chairs. A very formidable and stiff black rocker defied anyone to sit in it comfortably. One door, the door the elephant guarded, led into the living room, the other into the narrow center hallway where the staircase with its worn treads rose to the five bedrooms.
When my next younger sister moved to the farmhouse with her family to help care for our grandfather and later our uncle, the dignified square parlour was divided to create a bathroom and a rather dreary little bedroom. The elephant, by then mysteriously minus his tusks and tail, his wrappings decidedly faded and tattered, now served as a deterent to anyone inclined to burst through the bathroom door without knocking.
Our grandfather died in 1978 and our uncle followed a few years later, leaving the old house crammed full of the belongings of three generations. My sisters and I, with our mother, sorted for days, unearthing a few long-hidden family keepsakes and treasures as well as an ever growing heap of items which, as my grandfather might have declared had "out-lived their usefulness."
Some of the finer things, to my regret, my mother decreed must be sold. Many items found their way to the trash bin.
There remained the bits and pieces of no great worth, the oddments to be carried away simply because we couldn't bare yet to part with these things which had been taken for granted, a part of the familiar trappings of an old home for so many years.
I took the derelict elephant home with me and set him near my bedroom door, where I sometimes stubbed my toe on his cold heavy form.
I brought him west with me nearly a dozen years ago--along with the cracked celluloid swan and the chipped glass prism.
I have started packing---stowing newspaper-wrapped dishes in cartons, removing things from cupboards, wandering through the house with a speculative and appraising eye. My friends at work have donated boxes, our daughter lugged copy paper boxes [with lids!] home from school.
The process of dismantling and packing my household goods is dauntingly familiar. Somehow it will get done and in the coming few weeks the house will become unsettled, less welcoming, as pictures are removed from the walls, dresser tops cleared, books bundled into the stacks of boxes which will soon rim the edges of each room.
I wonder if a few decades hence, someone will wonder at finding among the hoarded oddments of my lifetime a broken doorstop in the form of an elephant. Who will remember the part of his story that I know?
Perhaps I should make him a new red bandage.