You have to apply the ‘two-purpose’ rule to everything

6 mins read


It’s Saturday, early, and I’m sitting at my dining room table trying to focus my eyes and my thoughts on the day that lies ahead. Saturday usually sends me into the yard with my friend, Joe Morrall, for some mowing, blowing and trimming.

This morning I’ve got the Wall Street Journal (Friday edition) and this comes with a real estate-related insert called “Mansion.”

“Mansion” is devoted to exotic, wildly expensive homes that typically sell for millions of dollars. There is a focus on size and location but they all come with theme park amenities like candy rooms, helicopter pads, go-cart tracks, water slides and yes, carriages pulled by former Budweiser Clydesdales.

“Mansion” always features a penthouse located in New York City or Houston. These entire-top-floor, glass enclosed spaces typically have a 360 degree view of New Jersey or nearby Lubbock. Usually there is a resident chef; as well as an onsite physical trainer who competes with the chef over one’s belly fat.

I must admit that I am drawn to “Mansion” and it’s far-flung properties although I know that I will never set foot on any of these estates or helicopter-accessible islands. I will also admit that I resent the advertising that usually includes the phrase “a life well-lived” in its vacuous, predictable copy.

I don’t know exactly why I resent these lavish homes — we do live in a capitalist country where conspicuous consumption and gold plated shower heads are encouraged, acceptable and often applauded. But I suspect my resentment is somehow connected to my childhood.

When I was growing up my father was in the U.S. Army and we would move around a lot. Although my father was an officer, I believed we were poor because my parents were frugal, penurious.

When we would move there was always concern about our new “quarters;” my parents wanting to live on the post. Usually base housing was not immediately available and at least on one occasion we lived in a converted barracks building.

When we finally moved into a house it was exactly like every other house (except for enlisted housing) and it came with a small marker identifying Major Graber as its current occupant.

The floor plan was exactly the same in each of these houses, and the decor usually reflected one’s the last duty station — especially if that duty station was the Far East or Europe.

My mother collected oriental rugs, ginger jar lamps and enameled vases that were blood red. When we would move one or more of these lamps or figurines would be smashed; and we would find our mother weeping as she beheld a headless geisha. Her despair would throw us into a family-wide depression knowing that this item could never be repaired or replaced.

I believe these long gone, but vividly remembered events now manifest themselves in an unconscious compulsion not to buy or collect or place any emotion into a crystal decanter or Chinese teapot that can be dropped or broken. If I buy anything, which is rare, it is made of brass, cast iron or reinforced with rebar.

Before our mother died, she sat me and my siblings down and gave each of her possessions their provenance, “I bought this in Taiwan from a blind man who fought with Chiang Kai Shek.”

We promised to remember each item; and to display it with appropriate lighting; but I didn’t take much of anything. For me they came freighted with the possibility of breakage, and the image of a young woman sobbing as she unwrapped the damaged items and tried to fit the broken pieces back together.

The decision not to keep any of these once-loved treasures haunts me to this very day. And, of course, I wonder about the few items that decorate my office — small (chipped) Mayan figurines, monkey skulls found on Morgan Island, pictures of myself with deposed African presidents, an autopsy jar full of political buttons.

My son, who lives in a studio apartment in Manhattan, observes the “two purpose rule.” Space is so precious that he and his fiance’ must agree that anything they acquire must have two utilitarian purposes.

Assuming the “two purpose rule” remains in place, most of my dusty, decorative, office ephemera will probably find its way to a consignment shop on Hilton Head. Then bought and showcased by a young developer and his stylish wife recently arrived from Buckhead.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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