The dead angel at Buba’s house

When we would go to Buba’s house at 34 Lewis Road in Swampscott, there wasn’t a heck of a lot for a little girl to do around all these grown-ups. Sometimes my siblings were with me but, surprisingly, I don’t have a lot of memories of being there with them.

I would bring my Barbies and play with them a lot. Buba had an old blue foot stool with embroidered flowers on it that looked like a little bed. I used to put my dolls to sleep on it and cover them in little blankets. Sometimes Buba had some things to play with on her side porch. She always seemed to have paper dolls. They were OK for a short time but I didn’t have delicate little hands, and I would end up accidentally tearing the tabs off the tops of the dresses and then they wouldn’t stay on the doll. Or I’d color. Or I’d play “secretary” on her old typewriter. I remember writing poems on that typewriter as well.

Many times, though, I would go exploring through her Cape Cod style house. It wasn’t an extremely old house, but to me a house from the 1920’s seemed ancient.

Grandad in his red chair in his den.

I liked going into Grandad’s den and sitting in the red leather chair in the corner. One day in the future that chair would find a loving place in my own home. I liked looking at all the old photos he had on the wall. People I didn’t know, but I knew they were connected to me. It was warm and cozy in that den with wood paneling and dark colored furniture.

He had a really cool desk with all these cubby holes in them that I liked to stick my hands in and out of. I think my mother had that for a while.

Buba had some cool things too. In her living room, especially. One of them I was both fascinated by and terrified of. It was a rectangular ceramic tile that sat cradled on a silver plate holder. It depicted Cupid with his golden blond locks, sleeping sweetly by the water.

As an adult now, I can describe it to you that way. The gorgeous colors. The serene beauty of the cherub as he slept so deeply.

As a small child, though, I was convinced it was a dead angel that was shot down by a bow and arrow. No one could convince me otherwise. I was terrified of it. But I couldn’t stop walking up to it and looking at it. I never went into that room without looking at it. I’d have anxiety about it while I slept upstairs. Some times I’d be really brave and get up really close to it and study it. I had some logic that it had some sort of spell or magic attached to it. Buba thought I was being ridiculous and she and my mother got a big laugh over my “thing” about that piece.

In 2015 I visited my Aunt Jean’s apartment in Reading, Massachusetts. There we were having a nice glass of iced tea in her living room talking about family. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted it. In her dining room.

I hadn’t thought of it in years…maybe not since I was a child, even. I surprised my Aunt and jumped up and ran over to it.

“The dead angel!” I said, looking at her with huge eyes and pointing my finger at it.

My aunt, a very gentile and well mannered woman, looked perplexed and annoyed at the same time.
“That,” she said indignantly as she walked over to me, “is Eros, or Cupid. It is not a dead angel.”

“Yes. It is too a dead angel.” I insisted, nodding my head and crouching down to look at it more closely.

Cupid, they tell me. 

This banter went on for a good minute or two.  My 90+ year old Aunt was becoming more and more irate at my seemingly lack of education and appreciation of art.

I snapped a photo of it.

I then told her the story of my encounters with it as a child. How I was enthralled with it and scared to death of it. How I would circle around it to see if it was going to come alive. How I would never play with my back to the dead angel because I wanted to keep an eye on it at all times.

And just like Buba. Just like my mother. My Aunt burst out laughing. “That is the silliest thing I have ever heard of, Jenny!” But she kept laughing.

It is incredible the memories our mind retains. Of good things, of scary things, of long forgotten and fleeting memories. My mother tells me this piece was always displayed in HER grandmother’s house (Luta Shrum). She has special memories of it as well. But not scary ones.

I had a similar experience in Buba’s scary basement with other family objects. Either I was just a kid that got scared a lot or I just had too much free time when I was there.

 I’ll save that for my next post.

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