No. 17: My Aunt Judy Collection

Artist: Judy Beaman
Title: Various Gifts
Date: 1992ish-2018
Culture: American
Provenance: Gifts given to EAH by her aunt over the years

I didn’t quite notice until I learned that my aunt was dying how many treasures she has given me over the years. There are a million and one reasons why I loved her, but these seven objects give a glimpse into who she was and why she was wonderful.

First, there is the book Bungalow Nation that chronicles and celebrates bungalows, houses that she and I both loved. She lived in so many houses and they all had the cozy, welcoming, friendly quality of bungalows, aided by her collection of things that were at once beautiful and functional. Bungalow Nation sits next to my sofa, and I look through it often.

Second, there is a VHS of the campy old movie Random Harvest, which she knew I liked. Being the classic film aficionado of our family, she introduced me to many of my favorite classics. Visits to her house always included viewings of Technicolor musicals, and Sunday dinners were often followed by a wonderful old movie that she’d dug out just for the occasion. She seemed to know the backstory of every movie and movie star.

Third, there is the decorative bowl she gave me when I was twelve or so. Delicate purple flowers are incised and painted at the center. I carted this around with me over the years, but it finally found a proper spot in our new house. The flowers match the pale lavender on the bathroom walls where it adds a touch of quiet beauty that delights me every day.

Fourth, there is the beautiful pink glass perfume set that she gave me when I turned thirteen. As I wrote before, it “reminds me of my aunt and the nerdy adolescent I once was, tagging along with her and my mother to brunches and antique shops, listening to classical music with them and watching Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Mansfield and Donna Reed and the endless list of gorgeous classic film icons work their charms on the world at large.”

Fifth, there is the wedding present she bought me and my husband: an old silver tea (coffee?) set. She was shy about it, not wanting us to open it until we got home. I remember standing with her at the entrance to the lodge where we got married as she assured us it was nothing special and “don’t worry if you don’t like it.” I’ll never forget standing there with her in the freezing cold and snow, so grateful she had schlepped to the north woods of Wisconsin for my wedding, her presence so cheerful and fun and warm, as always. The tea set reminds me of that moment every time I see it.

Sixth, there is a set of wine glasses she sent me around that same time. They are tulip-shaped and quirky, and they’re my favorites. I have no idea where she got them, but if a bungalow became a wine glass, this is the shape it would take. They are charming.

Last but not least, there is the silly nightgown she sent me after my daughter was born. She sent a lovely baby gift but also thought to send something for me. Covered in leaping and tumbling cats wearing pajamas and with the words “The Cats’ Pajamas” written across the middle, it was the perfect silly delight I needed to lift me up from the exhausted haze of caring for a newborn. She got it. She always did.

You see, my aunt was a lover of beauty, but not in the stuffy, austere sense of the word. Beauty for her was fun. It was joyful. She celebrated those small delights in life that are all too easy to overlook, and her enthusiasm brought joy to those she loved.

The last time I saw her we met briefly in my dad’s back yard. She was chipper and fun as ever. She looked vibrant and wonderful, and I’m pretty sure she was wearing one of her trademark turquoise rings. We shared a popsicle that she relished with classic Beaman enthusiasm on that hot August day. She met my daughter. She looked at pictures of our new house. She was making plans for her future and seemed genuinely happy about the move my family was making. She practically waltzed out of there after our time was up, and my husband and I commented that she was surely going to live to be 100 or older.

Turns out we were wrong about that, but she will live on with me as long as I’m around. She was one of a kind. You might even say she was the cat’s pajamas.

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