Several years ago while visiting a favorite aunt in San Francisco, I noticed a two-inch pewter figurine of Merlin looking out of place among the angels and intricately carved wooden boxes on the shelf in her guest room. Turning it over I wondered how this odd little thing had come into my aunt’s possession.
Merlin’s pointed wizard’s hat came down over his forehead with just enough room to reveal a thick set of bushy white eyebrows. A full mustache covered his lips, and a flowing beard covered his chest all the way to the waist of his royal blue robe. In his left hand he held a crystal ball while the fingers of his right grasped a tall crooked walking stick
While I stared at the intriguing figurine, Aunt Jeanne Marie walked into the room. Smiling she said, “Your mother bought me that. It’s a funny story.” Then she went on to tell me where he came from.
Several years earlier, after a visit with my mother in Virginia, the two of them were rummaging through a gift shop at Dulles Airport while waiting for my aunt’s flight to leave. Unexpectedly, the figurine caught Aunt Jeanne Marie’s eye. For some reason, she said, the little wizard embodied all her strongest childhood fantasies. She thought of purchasing him but the price seemed too high for something so silly.
After she hugged my mother goodbye and boarded her flight, she couldn’t stop thinking about the figurine. Something about it stirred precious memories of their childhood. Since Mother was traveling to San Francisco in a few weeks, Aunt Jeanne Marie called and asked her to pick up the figurine on her way out.
Being absent minded, my mother’s plane was in the air before she realized she had forgotten to buy Merlin. Not wanting to let her sister down, she called the store from California and arranged to have the figurine sent to my aunts house.
Still holding Merlin, a swell of emotions rose as I thought of the relationship between my mother and my aunt. For most of my life I had witnessed this close bond between these very different sisters.
When my father died, leaving Mother alone with six kids, it was my Aunt Jeanne Marie who came. Daily I watched her care for my mother when she fold down bed, polished her shoes, and cook our meals. I heard their soft conversation late into the night. Any time my Mother needed help, Aunt Jeanne Marie came back and did it all over again.
A few of years after my mother died I was back at my aunt’s house in San Francisco sitting with her in the dining room. She told me how she longed to pass her possessions along now so she could, “enjoy watching them go on to their next life.” Then she asked me what things of hers I wanted.
I immediately thought of the figurine, “All I want is Merlin,” I said. She looked a little surprised. “To me, he will always represent the love between you and Mother. Long after you’re gone, he will remind me of how close you two were.”
Today Merlin stands front and center on the shelf of the curio cabinet in my formal living room. He looks just as out of place among my china and crystal as he did on the shelf in my aunt’s guest room. But he is one of my most prized possessions. Often, I walk past him without even noticing him. But then some days he catches my eye and I stop and breathe in all he represents.
His presence causes me to reflect on the unique love between Mother and her sister. He reminds me to take time and remember the positive heritage passed along to me. He represents the value of family and the deep love we find there.
Someday I hope my grandchildren will ask me about the unusual figurine in my curio cabinet. When they do, I’ll tell them my Merlin story. I’ll tell them about my mother and my aunt while adding stories of me and my brothers and sisters. I’ll remind them of the importance of family and friendship. I may embellish a bit, but at a time when how we look is more important than who we are, my grand-kids need these strong role models to help mold the men and women they will one day become.