The Chinese Vases

The Story of the Vases

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land far away, there were three vases. They were, perhaps, ordinary vases as far as vases were back then, but they were beautiful items, laced with faces and snakes and etched in gold. Back then, no one could ever imagine the mysteries and unanswered questions those vases would eventually hold.

The vases were purchased by a man named Alfred Phillips sometime between 1905 and 1908 in the far away land of Hong Kong. He built boats and was called a shipwright or a draughtsman. He was skilled in the drawing of engineering plans of ships for the navy.

Alfred was British and worked in the British Naval Dockyard in Hong Kong for three and a half years. He moved there around 1905 from England with his wife, Susannah, and their two daughters, Winnie and Elsie.

Later, Alfred returned to England with his family and, when his daughters were teenagers, the family relocated to Bermuda where he was employed at the Royal Naval Dockyard.

Alfred and Susannah employed a housekeeper named Mabel Short. Winnie and Elsie liked the housekeeper very much. But then Alfred did a bad thing. He ran off to England with Mabel, deserting his wife and children. After that episode, Winnie never again liked Mabel or her father. She blamed Mabel for breaking up her parents’ marriage.

Elsie, however, remained fond of Mabel and still loved her father, but never saw them much since they lived so far away. Elsie, until the day she died, made excuses for her father and, in a small way, blamed her mother for perhaps not being as nice to him as she could have.

The three vases watched this once-happy family break apart. They had travelled from Hong Kong to England and then to Bermuda with the family. When the father left, he took those vases with him back to England. The vases missed Winnie and Elsie.

Many years later, Alfred, the father, died. Mabel knew how much Elsie had adored the vases, so she packed them up and shipped them to Elsie in Bermuda. By that time, Elsie was married. Elsie had a daughter by then, too, by the name of Doris. In fact, Doris was married then, as well, and even had two children of her own, but she lived in another far away land.

For the rest of her life, Elsie remained grateful to Mabel for the return of the vases to their rightful owner.

A few years after Elsie received the vases, her husband, Albert, died. Elsie was sad and alone then. Soon afterwards, Elsie packed up and moved to be near her daughter and family. By then, Doris had five children. The vases were packed up, too. They were going on yet another trip, this time to Canada.

Eventually, those vases would move again, with Elsie and her daughter’s family to the United States and later back to Canada.

Not once in any of the travelling did the vases break or chip or scratch. They stayed in perfect condition.

Elsie loved and cherished those vases. They were all she had left of her father, and she had loved her father so much. She proudly displayed the trio on top of her piano. They held so many memories for her. People continually told her they might be very valuable money-wise, but she never seemed to care. Her memories were more important than dollars. Over the years, the vases became known as “Granny’s Chinese Vases.”

Then, one day, Elsie died. The vases were all alone.

Doris took the vases into her house, but she was scared of them. She was afraid they were worth a lot of money, and she did not want to break them. She kept them hidden on the top shelf in her bedroom closet. The vases were not happy there. It was dark and lonely, and they were used to so much excitement. They yearned for the days when they would be seen and admired once again.

Many, many years later, in present day, Doris had to move from her big house where she had lived for almost forty years. Her husband had gone to Heaven and many years before that her children had moved into their own homes. Some lived far away. Doris was lonely in the large house by herself, so she decided to move to a smaller place.

Doris had to dispose of a lot of her stuff. She had too many things to take with her. She got rid of her furniture, too, because she wanted to buy new furniture. The vases were scared. Will she get rid of us, too?

Doris didn’t know what to do with the vases. If they were worth a lot of money, she might want to sell them. But if they were only worth a little bit, she would keep them. Doris was not as sentimental as she once had been, and possessions at her age didn’t hold the same meaning.

One of Doris’ children, Cathy, decided to see if the vases were worth any money. After awhile, that child-adult found out they weren’t worth much at all – estimates ranged from a couple of hundred dollars each to twelve hundred dollars in total – not the millions and millions the family had secretly hoped for. The vases became really scared then. Will she throw us out now? they wondered.

The family discovered some surprising facts about the vases. They weren’t Chinese vases after all; they were Japanese, made between 1865 and 1894 in Kyoto, Japan, and known as Satsuma ware. And there weren’t three vases; there were two vases and a “censer.”

What other mysteries do these vases hold? Unfortunately, we will never know. But they do know the real reason why the husband ran off with the housekeeper. They know the secrets of this family.

Doris couldn’t get rid of the vases. They had belonged to her grandfather and then her mother and now, as an only child, they were hers. They held too many memories to dispose of.

The vases were relieved. They would live. They didn’t even care if they were relegated back to the closet.

When Doris moved to her new home, she lovingly placed the three Japanese vases on top of her piano, just as her mother had done many years previous. Now Doris admires these vases every day when she walks through the room. And when she sits and plays the piano, she occasionally glances up and smiles and remembers her parents and grandparents.

Today, the vases are happy vases. The Japanese faces grin with glee at the snakes and the gold etching shines in the light.

(But they will forever be known as “Granny’s Chinese vases.” Granny wouldn’t want it any other way.}


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