The Vase: This family’s heirloom is a metaphor for life

It had always been placed behind criss-crossed metal wires in a credenza in my parents’ living room, a pierced china vase, maybe 8 inches high, with a gold-plated handle. A delicate cream, the vase’s body is adorned with purple, yellow and rose-colored asters, leaves and buds in muted autumn colors strewn over the base. There is an inner core that holds water, while on the surface are repeated patterns of cutouts, several resembling raindrops and others irregularly shaped. Encircling the base is a row of identical clover-like piercings, like a pearl necklace around the neck of a beautiful woman. Each sliver is distinct and artistically perfect. The vase is graceful in its simplicity, elegant in its complexity.

In the credenza, it was accompanied by other antique figurines, statues, cups and saucers, but the vase outshone them all. It was important enough to have its very own compartment where it perched proudly on a lace doily. As a child, I did not have much interest in antiques. Once, my parents brought home a tiny hurricane lamp, complete with a wick coming out of its top. The lamp had an original painting on it, which I promptly washed off in the bathroom sink, causing cries of dismay about my negligence.

But the vase intrigued me. How could someone have the skill to make so many perfect shapes, in all those different patterns, without destroying the entire thing? What if the artist became distracted and a tool slipped and caused one piercing to go into another one? And how did the inner core remain intact? I elevated the workmanship that went into the vase, and in doing so, elevated the vase’s value, too.

When I was married and had a home of my own, I asked my parents if I could have the vase, but it remained rooted in its spot in their home. Nevertheless, I had expressed so much love for this singular piece that I believed one day it would be mine.

And then one warm Sunday, it was. On that day, when my parents came to visit, the vase traveled with them, a towel wrapped lovingly around it. I can still see my father cradling it in his arms as he walked across the lawn, a broad smile on his face. I was surprised, as there had been no advance notice, and it was neither my birthday nor anniversary. I accepted the vase ceremoniously. Holding it gingerly, I placed it in a curved oak china cabinet my husband and I had recently purchased. Maybe my parents had been waiting until we acquired the proper home for this antique, safe from three growing children and one active dog.

I do not know the value of the vase, nor do I know how to find out without taking it from my home to have it appraised. The thought of that, and the frailty of the china, has caused me to live without this knowledge. My parents called it “pierced Meissen,” but the bottom of the vase shows a crest with the letters R and W. A friend who knows about antiques said that could stand for Royal Worcester and then went on to tell me they produced “reticulated” vases of this type. Reticulated, according to the dictionary, mans to “mark, divide, or construct so as to form a network,” which is just what the vase’s piercings do.

I recognize in my vase a metaphor for living. The vase is a beautiful whole, and it has integrity; even though its outer shell has been pierced many times, the vase has not cracked. Looking inside, through the holes created by the piercing, you can see the inner vase, the solid center meant to hold water to nourish a flower placed there.

Over the years, living causes holes in all our armor. We can only hope that just as the piercings in my vase did not damage its inner core, our personal holes do not scar the vital parts of our being. Feeling the vase with my eyes closed, my fingers touch bumps and lines and the openings caused by the slashing and a different image of the vase emerges. As we grow older, we experience more cuts into our outer shell just from living life. Our job is to remain whole, like my beautiful china vase, and not allow the holes to crack us all the way through. ?

Gloria Raskin is a retired school teacher who now enjoys freelance memoir writing. Her work has appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines such as LI Newsday, Bedford-Pound Ridge Record Review, Newsday’s Parents and Children, Plus Magazine, LI Mother’s Journal, Mature Years, ACBL (Bridge) bulletin, Inside Chappaqua, Long Island Woman, East Hampton Press and others.

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