Small Treasures

In preparation for the upcoming cruise and in an effort to cut down on luggage I’ve attempted to create this post using only the WordPress App and my iPad. It has certainly proved a challenge and I’m not sure how successful it will be on the voyage. 

Treasure [trezh-er]
1125-75; (noun) Middle English tresor < Old French < Latin thēsaurus storehouse, hoard (v.) Middle English, derivative of the noun

1. wealth or riches stored or accumulated, especially in the form of precious metals, money, jewels, or plate.
2. wealth, rich materials, or valuable things.
3. any thing or person greatly valued or highly prized:

Verb: (used with object), treasured, treasuring.
4. to retain carefully or keep in store, as in the mind.
5. to regard or treat as precious; cherish.
6. to put away for security or future use, as money.

While making a desperate attempt to clean out the room we so grandly call “the office” I came across an old jewellery box of my mother’s.  Knowling my friend Lara’s fondness for costume bling I took it into work and she raided it to find brooches, baubles, bangles and the odd set of beads tha would suit the style we’ve come to know as “My god Lara can pull it off!”

Amongst the faux stone glitter and fool’s gold filigree I found three items that I account as small treasures. The first I recall from the time I was a child to the day my mother died;  the second I don’t every remember seeing before but makes perfect sense to anyone who knew my mother; and the third puzzles me and begs several questions.

This compact sat on my mother’s dressing table along with a hairbrush and a hand mirror for as long as I can remember.  A map of her birth country is traced on it with the traditional symbols of the harp and the shamrock.  I doubt that she had it with her when she emigrated from Belfast as a young girl in 1919.   Perhaps she brought it back with her from her trip in 1925 when she went to Ireland to tell her family she was getting married.    For some reason I found myself oddly touched when I opened it up and found unused powder and the mesh puff that she had used to apply it – always sparingly even in her old age.  IT would never do to be too powdered and painted.

The compact is tranished and shows signs of frequent use but I’ve resisted the temptation to clean it up.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it now that it’s been rediscovered but at the moment it’s a gentle reminder of my Mother and the place where she was born.  In an amusing touch of serendipity it points to all the places we are planning to visit next year.

And the influence of Ireland, or at the least Ulster, accorded for much of what made up my mother’s personal beliefs when it can to state and church.   There was the Monarchy and there was a very Protestant God – and both where upheld and championed by the Loyal Orange Lodge.   This relict of another age was once a powerful and important lobby in many parts of the country and no more so  than in the City of Toronto.  There was a time when you could not get a job with the city unless you were a member of the “Orange”.   My mother was very much a member of that worthy, if highly bigoted, organization.  Lodge Night was a very important one for her  – and I looked forwarded to it too.   Until she founded a branch lodge in our neighbourhood it meant that one Friday a month my father and I would accompany her downtown and we’d have dinner at Diana Sweets on Yonge Street.   She would go off to her meeting and my father and I would head off to Loews or the Imperial for the latest Martin and Lewis picture or even on one occasion the Laurence Olivier Richard the Third.  After she became Worthy Mistress (sort of like Madame Chairman) of the Lodge in our neighbourhood Fridays nights were less fun.

In 1939 their Royal Majesties George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on a Royal Tour of Canada  and to commenorate the occasion the L.O.L. had a medal (in tin but a medal none the less) cast.   Their Majesties featured on the obverse  – the King captured more accurately than his good lady.

And though the Tour had ended on June 15 that did not stop the “Order” from linking the Royal visit to that seminal event in the history of the organization:  the Protestant victory at  The Battle of the Boyne.  The reverse shows the hero of that long ago battle – King Billy leading his troops as indeed he – or some one on a horse attired like him – would lead the parade on the 12th of July.

Anyone who did not grow up in an Ontario town of any size cannot fathom what the “Glorious 12th” was like in those days.  In Toronto it meant that Queen Street was closed for the 5 kilometres from the Old City Hall to the Dufferin Gates at the Exhibition grounds. Led by the faux-Billy all the Lodges in the city, mighty with banners, marched through town to the sounds of fife and drum bands playing such immortal pieces as “The Sash My Father Wore” and  “The Orange Maid of Sligo”.   It would take this procession of ladies in white summer dresses, gentlemen in dark flannels , white shit and tie – all of them sporting that sash their father worn – upwards of two hours to pass any given point.  Believe me their numbers were legion. When they reached the Exhibition Grounds they  celebrated the Monarchy and the victory of the True Faith with picnic lunches, songs and speaches reminding them that they were British subjects and to be vigilant in protecting Canada from the pernicious influence of the Church of Rome.

The third treasure has me puzzled. I have no idea where it came from or who it belonged to. And anyone who could shed any light on it is long gone.

Apparently this is a train conductor’s pocket watch made by the Waltham Watch Company, once one of the major watch makers in the world. Using the serial number – every Waltham product had one – a local jeweller was able to trace the manufacturing date to 1912. It would appear that at one time it had been gold plated though much of the plating has worn off and again I have resisted the urge to give it a “good cleaning”.

So we have discovered it’s provenance but the real mystery is how did it get into my mother’s jewellery box? To the best of my knowledge no one in my family was ever a train conductor or had anything to do with the railways other than as a mode of transportation. Who did it belong to in the family? My father? Doubtful though that could explain why she kept it. One of my mother’s brothers? All but one lived in Belfast and Ulster was not renowned for it’s train service then or now. My father’s father? To be honest, other than being a nasty old man, I have no idea what my grandfather’s occupation was. He had retired to the comfort of days spent in the Men’s beverage room at the Gladstone Hotel by the time I was born.

But you know that may be a clue. Across from the Gladstone – now a boutique hotel – stood the old Parkdale Train Station. The poker games at the Gladstone were popular affairs with the gentlemen in the neighbourhood. Is it possible that he won it from one of the workers across the road in a game of five card draw? I think I’ll go with that one until something better – or the truth – comes along.

As to what will become of these treasures now that they have been found, it’s hard to say. It would seem a shame to hide them away again but lacking bibelot cabinets I’m not sure what else can be done with them. That will be a mystery to be solved another day.

On this day in 1835: the HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, reaches the Galápagos Islands.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

2 thoughts on “Small Treasures”

  1. I love bibelots and treasures such as these; they come with lovely stories and memories, which is what makes them special.

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