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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

When it comes to furniture, my lack of knowledge is rivaled only by my lack of interest, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when, just a few weeks ago, Christina announced that we were going to a second-hand furniture store! Happy day!

As I plodded and grumbled through the rows of armoires and Ottomans and chest-o-drawers I rounded the corner to find ” a chest made of Genuine Italian Moppa! I hadn’t seen this type of wood used in furniture since … since I sold my dresser to Lollie in 1978!

Let’s back up …

For a while my stepfather worked at a furniture warehouse.

One day he brought home a few pieces of furniture specifically for me ” a bedroom suite, if you will. The pieces were seconds, so he got them free, but they looked pretty good. They were a light tan color with a unique and exotic-looking marbled pattern. My stepfather told me that the wood was “Italian Moppa.”

Wow! I was so impressed with this that I told everyone who would listen ” which was nobody ” that my bedroom furniture was “Genuine Italian Moppa.” I was like a 12-year-old Ricardo Montalban.

(NOTE: I’ve Googled “Italian Moppa” and the closest I can find is the Colombian Mopa-Mopa tree, which is not used in furniture-making. I’m now convinced that my stepfather just made up the word “Moppa” to impress me, and I’m embarrassed by how well it worked. If you, the furniture-versed reader, have some insider Moppa information, please contact me.)

Lollie, from a few paragraphs back, was my mother’s stepmother, my step-grandmother. She never really seemed like a grandmother, though. More like an aunt. She and my mother were so close that they were practically sisters. After Lollie’s husband died, she became a bartender at the VFW Club (a bar, basically) in Greenville, Miss. The VFW was walking distance from Greenville Christian School, where I was a model student. Three days a week I’d walk to the VFW after school and clean up from the night before. I’d mop the floors, gather up and throw out Budweiser bottles (Recycling? HA!) and empty the overflowing ashtrays. Both of my parents were smokers, so I was no stranger to cigarette butts. It didn’t even seem like a dirty job to me. To this day I still get a nostalgic feeling from the smell of stale beer and ashtrays. Ahhhhh … home …

When I was done cleaning Lollie would unlock the pool table and we’d shoot pool ” for free! ” until the regulars started arriving. I think it was the best job I’ve ever had.

I did the post-school cleanup for a couple of years, and although I was trying to save up enough for a dirt bike, I spent most of my earnings on comic books and model rockets. So when I found the perfect used Yamaha YZ-100 in the want ads, I was still about $100 short. A hundred dollars is a LOT of ashtray emptying, especially when you factor in my weekly comic book needs.

Lollie heard about my shortfall and offered to give me $100 for my dresser. Italian Moppa or not, this dresser was NOT worth that much. Not even close. Lollie was just cool, that’s all.

So, Lollie gets a dresser, I get a motorcycle, years go by, things happen, people move to various places, and I don’t see Lollie for 20 years. I reconnected with her 10 years ago when I returned to Mississippi for a visit. And guess what? She still had my dresser! We drank coffee and went to a corner store for some fried catfish and visited Mississippi John Hurt’s grave site and did a full day’s worth of great things. We stayed in touch until she died about five years ago.

Well, in the past five years I’ve started to truly embrace my passion (obsession) for old family photos. I’ve been diligently gathering and scanning all known photos of my immediate and slightly removed family. I’ve managed to round up all the photos from the aunts, grandmothers and cousins who have their own photo collections.

I’ve been busy.

I’ve amassed about 25,000 images, and it’s been great fun, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit depressed about the fact that this vein is all tapped out. I mean, there are a finite number of pictures of me and my family out there, right? And I think I’ve probably come to the end of the line. Sigh …

But as I rounded the corner and saw that Genuine Italian Moppa dresser, something occurred to me for the first time.

Hey! I wonder if Lollie had any pictures?

(To be continued …)


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