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An aunt had a gift for choosing small furnishings that looked tacky when they were new, but that aged into beautiful forms. Now and then when I feel the urge to kick myself, I regret passing along a pewter tea caddy that she gave me. Her enormous square Imari serving dish, that held coffee-table clutter in a Peninsula living room, looked at first like the cheapest imaginable import schlock. Twenty years mellowed it into an expressive accessory, and I now realize the dish must have been an authentic piece of the sturdy utilitarian restaurant ware that Imari was.
When I was putting tea away the other day, I washed the old spoon I use to measure dry leaves. This spoon has been kicking around for generations, and I always perceived it as a cheesy souvenir of the Oregon myrtle wood industry. The handle was varnished, and the bowl looks almost like pot metal.
Washing the Russian smoke flavor off the spoon, I realized that a gentle pass with a nylon scrubber would remove the last of the handle’s varnish. Instantly it was transformed from the heirloom one can’t quite bring oneself to discard to a timelessly simple and elegant piece of table ware. It was the texture that had been wrong all along. Bare dry wood and good pewter look wonderful in combination. I use the spoon for dry things, because it’s not marked and pewter’s iffy: it could have soluble lead in it.
A neighbor once showed me her new bathrobe, commenting that it should “shab up” nicely. Until I washed that spoon, I hadn’t realized that shabbing can work in reverse.