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Of Old Things and Attics



Your attic may be last on your list for spring cleaning. Nobody goes up there anyway, especially with those stupid, heavy pull-down stairs. But June is the perfect month to pay it a visit—not too hot or cold.

Just forget about the sponge and Ajax. Take a sandwich instead. You’ll be there awhile surrounded by memories and soon realize why you never threw any of this stuff away.

Here’s a sampling of what I recently found in ours.

My grandmother’s silver lamÉ banquet cloth with a twelve-inch square hole cut smack in the middle of it. Our five-year-old daughter had come down the attic stairs with a bewitching smile and her hands behind her back.

“Look, Mommy,” she proudly announced. “I made you the most beautifulest handkerchief!”

A box of seashells I collected in Jamaica intending to decorate a mirror someday. (I even had the special glue.) But when our friends bought a lovely home on John’s Island in Vero Beach and I was puzzling over what house present to take them, they said: “No gifts, please,” adding unwittingly, “What we don’t need is a shell mirror!”

A white satin book from our 1959 wedding in Cleveland listing 302 gifts, including a nondescript ashtray from someone who had more money than God and eight monogramed silver napkin rings from a guest as poor as a church mouse.

A dozen time-yellowed Western Union telegrams from people who couldn’t be there—like Sandy and Marie Sulger who lived someplace called Greenwich. Another from one of Jack’s roommates in the Bone Pile (a bachelor pad in Cleveland Heights), who was an old beau of mine, asking: “When are you going to send me the finder’s fee?”

A lamp made out of a binnacle from a WWII Japanese lifeboat. OK, I’m married to a sailor, but it just didn’t do well in our living room.

A Din-Don hostess apron—white dotted Swiss with lavender and blue ribbons—from the days when we wore long hostess skirts for entertaining. Dinny Robins and I had gone into business, hiring sewers and peddling aprons to such stores as Outdoor Traders and Mark, Fore & Strike. Cottage industry, for sure; but I made $10,000—enough money to treat Jack and me to a cruise around the Greek Islands.

My Astronomy 101 notebook from Wellesley. I loved Professor Sarah Hill, who stretched our minds and imaginations. We found God way beyond the galaxies and excitement beyond our wildest dreams when she was invited to Scotland to investigate alien landings.

The crib with all those little teeth marks on the railing. It’s illegal now, so nobody wants it. Something about the spacing of the slats. Are all babies born pinheads these days?

A green galabeya from Cairo. Upon our return Jack and I had surprised the office staff by showing up dressed Egyptian-style, complete with Pharaoh headdress and Cleo wig. The new hire in the art department thought we were nuts.

A very large, framed Montague Dawson print. “One more duck or boat in this house, and I’m out of here!” I keep reminding Jack.

My mother’s stone martin stole, the pelts sewed nose to tail with their legs hanging down. Bored in church, a childhood friend of mine seated behind two matrons had quietly tied the feet of their stoles together, thus creating quite a scene when the ladies stood up to sing.

My big brother Lee’s original erector set from the thirties—an early indicator that we would have yet another engineer in the family.

Postcards to my parents from my 1954 European tour. After visiting the Vatican, I wrote: “Boy, am I full of history and religion!” Another highlighted a snowball fight in the Alps in July with my brother Mike.  

A box with two large, long-necked llama heads protruding out of it—part of a Pushmi-Pullyu costume that Barbara Gallagher and I made for the Grace Notes “Dr. Dolittle” show. I loaned the whole rig to my Polish manicurist and her friend who wore it to a Halloween costume contest at the Hyatt and won a trip to Florida; but not speaking a word of English, Ava hadn’t a clue about what was happening when they were called on stage to accept the award.

A Grenadier guard uniform I found in an antiques shop in London and brought home on my lap in the plane for Prince Charming to wear in another Grace Notes show.

Emily Post’s book entitled simply Etiquette, from 1948 with my mother’s handwritten notes on proper wedding attire for men: “Five o’clock wedding with reception one hour later calls for dinner coat, dark topcoat and black dress hat, but any other afternoon wedding properly calls for striped pants, frock coat and ascot tie. Definitely proper for afternoon but not to be worn after six p.m.” So there you have it!  

A lacquered blowfish the size of a grapefruit, its spines so needle-sharp you have to wear gloves to pick it up. Wouldn’t it just be the perfect booby prize for our family fishing contest in Vermont this summer? Maybe its attic days are over.

But enough of this. It’s your turn. Go up there and have fun. See what you can find. Just don’t forget the sandwich.

—Donna Moffly

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