Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Heavens to Dickens
When you walk into a judge's chambers you expect to see many things - attorneys, shelves of legal books, file cabinets, computers, an American flag. I doubt a porcelain Dickens Village by Dept. 56 would be on your list - especially 61 linear feet of it. Now don't get me wrong, our chambers are elegant, decorated with gold moire wallpaper over white wainscoting. Deep blue carpet takes you down the hall past offices with mahogany doors surrounded by detailed molding.
The Judge didn't care for the gray file cabinets, so she decided to bring her Christmas Village in one holiday season to brighten up the room. That was 8 or 9 pieces fourteen years ago. Being a little compulsive, when Dept. 56 added pieces, she wanted her collection to be complete. (She was their dream customer.) Soon she was out of room at home for the "village". Finally, her collection became so large, she had to employ the services of a "professional" young man from the local Christmas Shoppe to come set-up the village permanently. What started with the White Horse Bakery and the Fletcher Public House had grown to 25 - 30 pieces, including such as Giggelswick Mutton & Ham, Great Denton Mill, and Dursley Manor.
Now when I say "permanently" I mean each piece was nestled safely in a three tiered piece of white styrofoam (specially developed - I was told - for Dept 56 pieces) with official "snow" sprinkled around. Different varieties of trees were strategically placed among the houses, churches, and shops. The village continued growing around the room until the top of all three lateral files were covered with everything from Victoria & Albert Museum to Kensington Palace. So into the work room, which had a nice shelf space surrounding the top of the room the collection continued it's unparalleled growth to include the Globe Theatre, Chabury Train Station, and the continuing urban sprawl of cottages, banks, cobblers, and markets and all the accompanying characters. When the shelves in that room were full, did the madness stop? Not hardly, the pieces kept coming, they were just stored in the closet for safe keeping.
Now one thing about this display was its show stopping ability. You could have a US Marshal enter the room and start his introduction, "Good morning, I'm Marshal John Brown, and just wanted to . . ." and you would see his eyes wonder off to his left as he surveyed the village on the file cabinets. "Wow, I've never seen such a thing, " he'd say in amazement. I would immediately explain that it was not mine (I wanted to quickly divorce any thought of ownership from me) and direct his attention to the second part of the collection to even further astonish him. And, it never failed.
Now the Judge took her collection seriously, much more so than the rest of us. I personally tried to ignore it. Every time I opened a file cabinet, I would hear the tinkle of porcelain as a some unstable piece teetered on the edge. I prayed this was not the time some rare, irreplaceable piece would tumble to the floor and shatter. And, trust me, even though the "village" was populated with hundreds of shoppers, vendors, hawkers, school children, carolers, families, and the occasional priest, the Judge knew each one intimately and there was little doubt she would know that one of "her people" were MIA. We would often come to work, find the lights off and her on a ladder, replacing burned out bulbs in the various shoppes, houses, and churches. Honestly, there were so many lit buildings, I never knew how she could tell there were bulbs burned out .
Once, two of the attorneys in the office replaced one of the Beefeaters, in their red Swiss Army uniforms guarding Kensington Palace, with a plastic Marvin the Marcian doll. Since the figure was just slightly larger than the "real" guards, and was marching in place with them, he went for weeks unnoticed by the Judge. The UPS man and the mailman took notice and shared in our joke. However, when the Judge learned of the interloper, she failed to see the humor in the situation.
What I failed to see was why in God's name, when we had one of the most lovely places to work, we were subjected to what I would equate to as Prime Time on HSN. I spent fourteen years trying to make peace with this village I had to live with daily, ignoring the constant comments of visitors about the collection, trying to avoid certain catastrophe when the inevitable happened and a rare piece fell to its demise as I just tried to do my job. I could relate to Marvin, just marching in step with the Beefeaters. Come on, you had to see humor in this.