The Cross House
In the 1980s, I lived in New York City and had a thriving architectural design practice. Donald Trump was one of my clients (and I may one day reveal my stories). I lived in a very large duplex apartment in Little Italy.
I enjoyed having people and clients over for dinner, so had fabulous china and crystal. Of course, dahlink! The crystal was something I found at Bloomingdales. It was by Mikasa and from their Sophisticate pattern. I loved the feel of it; so delicate. I loved, too, the design. Each piece reminded me of something that would be used in Emerald City.
I ordered a complete set for twelve, including water, wine, champagne, and cordial glasses. The price was many thousands of dollars. I did not bat an eye, and handed over my gold American Express card.
Fast forward to 1996. My life was unrecognizable from the 1980s.
I was now living in Newport, Rhode Island, four years after a real-estate deal had gone spectacularly bad. Had the national economy not also collapsed I might, might, have survived the 1992 debacle. But by April 1996 I had lost my house, my adored 1929 yacht, Alondra, my car, and was now living in my office. I traded work for rent. My plan was to leave Newport and backpack across America. And all that I had left were some personal items and…a complete set of Wizard of Oz-styled crystal.
Which was not likely to fit in a backpack.
I had a yard sale in my office, and priced the crystal set at an absurd $120.
Hours later, everything had sold but the crystal.
As I was closing up, an older woman wandered in. She saw all the empty table tops, and then moved before the crystal. She stood there for many minutes, carefully picking up various glasses and looking closely at them. Then, she just kept standing, not moving.
I stopped cleaning and came beside her. “Can I help?”
She did not answer. She was just staring at the array of crystal, sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
“Can I help you?”
She suddenly, in a startled way, seemed aware of my presence.
“Can I help you?”
She looked confused. Then, she picked up the little note card which stated: Crystal set for twelve. $120.
“I don’t understand. Is each piece $120?”
“No. The whole set is $120.”
She looked profoundly confused.
“I don’t understand.”
I waved my hand across across the tops of all the glassware. “All of this is $120.”
Now she looked worried.
“What….what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing. The set is very fine crystal with no damage and is fully complete.”
The woman looked increasingly upset and confused. I had no idea of what was wrong with her. Then her eyes watered up. “You mean…all this is priced at $120? You mean, if I give you $120 I can leave with all these gorgeous pieces of crystal? All of them?”
“Yes, that is exactly correct. And I know the price is unbelievable but I am leaving Newport with just a backpack and cannot take this with me. It has to go.”
The she started crying. Really crying. I just stood, not knowing what to do.
After a few moments she calmed a bit. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea that I would do that. Please forgive me. You must think I am insane. It’s just….it’s just…that my daughter is getting married next week, my only child, and I have looked everywhere for a incredible wedding present but have not been able to afford a single thing I thought she would love. Not a single thing! And how can I not give my daughter a wedding present? How? But now you are telling me that for a measly $120 I can give my daughter the best-ever present? The most exquisite crystal I have ever seen? A set she will go crazy for?”
Ahhh. I understood now. “Yes, all this can be yours for $120.”
Then she erupted in tears and fell against me. “Thank you! Thank you!”
I wrapped my arms around her and we both just stood, with the the array of crystal sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
After leaving Newport, I wandered America and ended up in rural Kansas. And stayed.
In 2006, I stumbled into what would prove a thriving business: restoring vintage lighting and selling online.
in 2012, I recalled my Wizard of Oz set and thought it would be nice to acquire just a few pieces. Maybe just three or four wine glasses. Then, when I had some wine, I could smile recalling my former big city life and the memory of a very happy mother.
But I had no memory of what company had made the set, much less the pattern name. So, months passed with me spending an absurd about of hours crawling through the famous Replacements website. Hours and hours and hours.
I ordered a few pieces and was thrilled when they arrived. Memories flooded over me of the many dinners in my grand duplex and of the very happy mother. Even though I had lost so much in the 1990s, I had been able to resurrect a tiny portion of my former life, to heal, just a bit, something which had been scarred.
On eBay, I created a search and would occasionally receive an email about Sophisticate pieces being offered. Sometimes, I would make a purchase. Over time those first few pieces became ever more pieces.
This month, I agreed to host the board of the 1900 theater at the Cross House on October 1. We will be having dinner. But, as I detailed in a previous post, I soooooooooooooo did not want to be eating off paper plates and drinking from plastic cups. The grand dining room, no matter its current ruined condition, demanded, well, better.
My Great China Hunt was successfully concluded by filling out, in the end, a set I already had. There was, however, no reason to begin a Great Crystal Hunt for, to my surprise, since 2012 I had managed to acquire an almost complete set of twelve Sophisticate pieces. Oh. I had no idea.
A month ago I had no plans to do any work on the butler’s pantry. There was no reason.
Today? I have a compelling reason.
A Wizard set needs to be properly displayed.
And it is a thrill to use the butler’s pantry for its original purpose. I cannot help but wonder: when was the last time fine crystal graced these shelves?