The feng shui experts say it’s bad luck to keep broken things. But the ones with sentimental value seem to hang around, waiting for me to glue them back together or let the fragments go into the trash.
The latest is a clay piece my brother made in art class when he was six. I think my mother discovered it in a box when she was clearing out old clutter – and, as is the tradition in my family, passed the clutter on to me because she couldn’t throw it away herself. I remembered this item from childhood, felt sentimental, and brought it to my office to use as a paperweight. It became desk clutter, then fell over and demonstrated how fragile are some of those ’70s clay-like substances our art teachers used to air dry on old newspapers or bake in classroom kilns.
My brother, who’s three years younger than I, carved and painted a lopsided peace sign on one side of this half-round of clay and a rainbow on the other. Both sides are cheerful – yellow, orange, red, pink, royal blue, forest green, and something that looks like a lime green with a mustard wash over it. (The glaze either never worked well in the first place or has given out after nearly 40 years.) At the bottom of the rainbow, where the red paint has flaked off, I can see part of a fingerprint in the clay.
Ours was not a happy family. This slab of clay-like material is a reminder of the times when we children were not depressed, frightened, hiding from a raging father and an abused, damaged mother who seemed to never stop talking and talking and talking. This 4-by-4-inch sculpture reminds me that my brother, who turned into an angry young man and in some ways has remained one for three decades, was once a bright and sometimes sunny child.
Sometimes we decide to keep a bit of the clutter. I’m going to glue this rainbow back together, and put it where it can’t fall and break again.