I’m no decorator, but Spanish colonial style speaks to me and I’ve tried imitating it in my home. A pair of Ecuadoran rustic figures carved from dark wood sits on my living room mantle near an imitation piece of Talavera pottery I picked up in Nogales. Two large scenes of Mexico painted by my deceased dad flank the room’s single long window. The room makes me happy.
Last Christmas we took our family to Hong Kong. One day, my friend there took my teenage daughter and me into a porcelain shop on a narrow, crowded street, and from the cheapest machine-stamped pottery at the front to the finest, glass-encased porcelain in the back, I was enchanted. A smiling woman with a large gap between her front teeth and a fuschia blouse directed me to possible items to purchase. “This-a-one,” she said, removing a wide, flat bowl from a case in the back, “flower mean long life, okay?” It was beautiful. How to decide between it and all the other enticements? I took mental note and kept looking.
Finally, the attendant brought a smaller bowl shaped like a three-dimensional “U,” the letter’s serif becoming a lip around the top edge. She held it up for the light to pass through, demonstrating the higher quality of the piece, but what captivated me was the artwork. In full color, little Chinese boys swarmed across the surface playing mah-jong, swimming, climbing trees, pulling sticks. As far from Spanish colonial style as it could be, the bowl also spoke to me and I knew over all the selection in the store, I had to have this one.
That evening, in our friends’ apartment twenty-four floors above the city, I showed the bowl to our host. He turned it in his hands. “It means, ‘Wish for One Thousand Children,’” he said, pointing to Chinese characters at the top. “It says right here.” The wish captivated me as much as the piece itself. Children can come closer to the core of one’s heart than anyone or anything but deity.
When we returned home, I placed the bowl on its rosewood stand on the other side of the mantle from the rustic Peruvian figures, not sure if it really belonged in the room at all, but I needed it to be where I could see it.
I walked past the bowl several times a day. As months passed, it reminded me of our trip, but it also kept me mulling over the wish for one thousand children. What exactly did that mean? No one can expect to have one thousand children or even an extended posterity that large in this lifetime. A wish for one thousand children must have meant a wish for posterity enduring over the years, I thought.
Finally, at the end of May, as I walked through the living room and looked at the bowl as usual, I realized what my subconscious had known all along. The palette of colors used in the bowl was the same as the color palette my dad used in the paintings of Mexico on the wall. Unconsciously, I must have selected the bowl as much for its colors as I consciously did for its subject. Of course the bowl belonged in that room.
Somehow, I was sure, my realization had something to do with the wish for one thousand children, because it had to do with family. My dad has been gone for eleven years, but just as the bowl reminds me of family and children, his paintings surround me and remind me of him--and the colors in both sing together.
Could the wish for one thousand children somehow work both ways? Could it simply be a wish for a family tied together, past and future?
I wasn’t sure if that’s what the Chinese meant, but it worked for me.
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