I’d always had my eye on Aunt Helen’s huge ginger jar, even when I was very young. She kept it up high on top of a fancy piece of furniture that had a French name, and never used it for anything other than decoration, although occasionally it held large summer flowers.

I’d sit in one of her painfully uncomfortable wing-backed chairs across the room, and I’d stare at it for long periods of time. It fascinated and transported me, as weird things often do with young children, and while she called it a “ginger jar,” to this day I’m not completely sure it was. Or is. Maybe it’s just a large ginger jar shaped vase. I grabbed it when she died.

Ginger jars according to Ms. Google, are typically Chinese porcelain jars with a wide mouth, a domed lid and a bulging, spherical body. Although the Chinese traditionally used the jars to store a variety of goods, the jars acquired the name “ginger jars” because they often contained ginger when they were exported to the West.

I am not a huge fan of ginger but the Chinese people must have been, because these jars are fairly large and could have held a lot. But old Aunt Helen’s jar was wonderful and still is.

Any antiques dealers reading this, please do not blanche, but once I got that beautiful ginger jar into my home, I had it made into a lamp and I’ve used it every single day of my life.

The lid is gone but the paintings are of wondrous fat Asian fish swimming in a placid sea, with large Iris shaped yellow flowers encircling the bottom. The colors are rich while being gentle, even mystical. The magical fish look at one another as they pass by and even seem to smile, if fish can smile.

I look at it as often today as I did while sitting in Aunt Helen’s awful chair staring at it in complete fascination. I wish I knew its story. I hope Auntie H is able to see it in my home and knows that her old jar/lamp is loved and cared for and how happy I am owning it.

I hope she also knows how dearly I remember her. She was the first person who ever introduced me to Coca Cola and I remember how it stung my nose and how I didn’t know at that moment that I had developed my very first of many addictions; Coca Cola for me is the elixir of life, and I struggle to avoid it.

I remember how my aunt tried so hard to be angry with me for whatever reasons, and I could always make her laugh and forgive me for whatever trespass I’d committed. She would then have a hard time forgiving me for causing her to laugh loud and long when I deserved to be scolded loud and long.

I remember once becoming angry with my dear old spinster aunt and sassing her when she reprimanded me, and I remember stamping to the summer-cold fireplace where she had placed a priceless porcelain Staffordshire spaniel, and I kicked it to smithereens to show my displeasure. I also vividly recall her scream and the stinging slap across my face she delivered with laser accuracy.

Today that would be abuse. Back then it was earned.

I so well remember when my sister and I were emptying her huge apartment after “Auntie Aitch” had died and finding all those precious Staffordshire pieces in a bag at the back of a closet. I glued them all together with love and tears and whispered apologies.

And while it’ll never be as good as it was originally in England, it is treasured in our home. Aunt Helen’s priceless, shattered and glued Staffordshire spaniel lives safely on a shelf in our dining room, staring at me with unforgiving glass eyes.

My sister and I both remember reading Aunt Helen’s diary after she died, something we’d never have dreamt of doing while there was a breath in her body, and we read how when quite young, she’d fallen in love with a young man named Quent.

She wrote about how he’d touched her hand, had told her a joke, had smiled across a crowded room at her and even had asked her to dance once.

My sister confessed to me that once she’d taken some chalk and had written “Quent Loves Helen” on the sidewalk in the front of Helen’s Victorian home, and remembers our Aunt running from the house with a bucket of water and a scrub brush, frantic to remove the embarrassing chalked scribbles.

But then the words on the diary pages became sad. They said “Quent came to the tennis club today with Mary Arnold” and ink being what it was back then, my sister and I could see splotches and knew they were from her tears.

Aunt Helen spent the rest of her life caring for her elderly parents, as so many good spinster ladies did back then. She left me with so many sweet and funny memories, and of course, her beautiful ginger jar.

 

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