The Glass Menagerie
In my dining room is this curio cabinet where I keep the odd small collectibles that I have found over the years at various garage and estate sales as well as an auction or two. The collection has a literary theme inspired by the one of the great plays of the twentieth century, The Glass Menagerie. It is a memory play based upon the life of playwright Tennessee Williams that I first read when I was in high school and a member of the speech team. My partner and I were looking for a short excerpt to act in to compete in the duo-drama event at the next tournament. I immediately identified with the story of the down-and-out family.
The brooding narrator Tom Wingfield is a frustrated writer who sells shoes by day then drinks and watches movies all night. He is the sole support of Amanda his overbearing mother, a fading southern belle who worries about the future of his sister Laura, a shy and crippled business school drop out who collects glass objects. Although I was a girl with some self confidence, Laura is the character with whom I identified the most.
Over the course of an evening the reticent young woman learns to accept and even to embrace her less than perfect self when one of her most precious ornaments is broken with her newly dashed dreams built around her gentleman caller. I liked that Jim the aforementioned Gentleman Caller was interested in studying speech just as I was and that he had spoke so generously to Laura, his old friend from school. At the end of the drama, Tom abandons the family just as his father before him but remains haunted by the memory of his sister lighting candles in the dark.
Little Articles of Glass
Like Laura's my collection of glass animals are the cutest little things to be cherished and admired. She is as proud to show them off to her would-be suitor as I am to show them to you: "Little articles of it [glass], they're ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here's an example of one, if you'd like to see it! . . . Oh, be careful — if you breathe, it breaks! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?"
A Little Defect
Another similarity I share with Laura Wingfield is that I was a little crippled girl who spent six months in a corrective cast when I was nine years old. No one had noticed before then why I was such a clumsy child until an uncle brought my crooked knees to my parents' attention. Here is a picture of me recovering at Children's Hospital in Washington, D. C. a place where I learned about books especially a love for Benjamin Franklin after reading Ben and Me, ginger ale, lime sherbert, and how to walk again.
After my release from the hospital I didn't let my misshapen legs stop me. After years of ballet dancing, I have also been skiing, long distance hiking, technical mountain climbing, and lots of other activities that I was told I wouldn't be able to enjoy. My parents didn't interact with me much and so I learned about the way life should be from the parents I met in books and at the theatre. I particularly remember the advice in Amanda's admonition to her daughter in the play about not letting her disability define her: "Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it — develop charm — and vivacity — and — charm!" I am still not quite sure what charm is but I know that I want it!
Tennessee Williams walked among us and was on TV
I was happy to realize that Tennessee Williams was my contemporary unlike my other earlier literary loves--Shakespeare, Poe, and even Fitzgerald. All dead before I read them. Williams also was seen on the talk show circuit on TV when I was a teenager not watching talk shows.
Have you caught up with Dick Cavett on Youtube? Back in the day writers were treated like celebrities such as rock stars and actors. You can watch Janis Joplin styling with Joan Fontaine and Groucho Marx teasing Truman Capote; but I digress. Below is a kind of patronizing excerpt from an interview with David Frost but Williams has a kind of soggy charm.
Tennessee Williams with David Frost
It was not enough that Tennessee Williams gave us The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Hot Summer, and The Night of the Iguana, the poor man was hounded for not producing enough to satisfy the insatiable hunger of the critics. He died an alcoholic after being hounded in the press for not producing more and more brilliance of the same calibre as his early creations. Nevertheless, his body of work stands almost peerless in the latter part of the twentieth century. I am a devoted admirer of his genius.
Packetts Pharmacy's Gift Counter
I always wanted to have beautiful shiny objects when I was a little girl and I would admire silly things like the faceted glass doorknobs around the house. You could see rainbows and other mysteries in them. I remember there was a pharmacy and gift shop called Packetts in Silver Spring, Maryland where I grew up. Besides, the gum, candy, and comic books, the other main attractions were the lovely figurines sold from the polished glass cases--beautiful things like gossamer birthday angels with a touch of gold and tiny buffalo grazing on a little card. I was enchanted by their beauty but there were never enough coke bottles it seemed for me to cash in to buy them and so I would go home with Archie and Three Musketeers.
Now that I am older and looking for memories, I have found these little articles of glass that I longed for to be a favorite find when I am scrounging for antiques and other collectibles. Here is a closer look at the cositas that I discovered most of them unwanted and discarded often for under one dollar. This is the first shelf on the left.
Those lifelike birds on the left are German and made by Gobel.
This little bridegroom and bride were the bluebirds of happiness on the top of our wedding cake when Bob and I were married two years ago in August. The chipped couple are a lot like us. Worn but still cute. These were made in Japan maybe by Lefton.
The kissing angels are also Lefton of Japan. Notice that the cherub on the right has a broken halo and wings. Even fallen angels need love, too.
The adorable trio of musicians is marked Napco and are also made in Japan.
The next shelf . . .
"In memory everything seems to happen to music."
This is the second shelf where I have deer and children looking lost in the forest. Tom reminds us of the importance of music in memory. He was listening to jazz in the late thirties.
The duo in raincoats are a music box and the tinkling little song is this one from 1970 when I was sixteen--a happy song from a popular movie at the time Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford who were the most gorgeous men in Hollywood--but I also had a thing for Lee Marvin who wasn't in that movie. Pardon my stream of consciousness.
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head
The third shelf has a California motif. Odd pieces of Franciscanware, swallows, salt and pepper shakers shaped like chile people, cactus, stagecoaches, and lemons.
These green dishes are what started the whole thing. My friend Lisa spotted the elegant dessert set at an estate sale and said, "One of us is taking this home." As you can see, it was me and I had to have a cabinet to show it in. I remember snobbishly laughing at the cute little lady who was selling the "wild ware." This is pretty wild but it is the work of California designer Max Weil. I particularly like the leaves on the saucer. ;D.
This is the top shelf on the right. Its motif is ladies and their dogs.
The Great Gatsby and Lladro
The understated colors on these pieces are sublime. The lady on the left is marked The Great Gatsby and I can only surmise that this must be Myrtle because she is the character who had a dog. The outfit looks a little fancy to be worn by Myrtle but I still like the figurine just the same. Girl with the parasol is genuine Lladro and she looks nice with Myrtle even if she is a little out of scale. Perhaps she is Daisy. Wasn't Redford a handsome Gatsby in the 1974 adaptation?
Speaking about film, I can't quote from The Glass Menagerie without including my favorite passage from the play and one of my main complaints about contemporary culture. Tom tells us what is wrong with the movies: "People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there’s a war. That’s when adventure becomes available to the masses."
This shelf is a hodge-podge of stuff representing holidays throughout the year. Of note are the candles shown below.
These are from the 1960s. Unlike Laura, I will not be lighting them. They are quite rare and I adore the cute look of them--especially the ghost.
I never had a brother just four sisters but if I had such a man in my life I would want him to say this to me, too: "I wish that you were my sister. I'd teach you to have some confidence in yourself. The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They're one hundred times one thousand. You're one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here. They're common as — weeds, but — you — well, you're — Blue Roses!"
Another Interview with Tennesee Williams