It was a dark cabinet in the far corner. An enoumous cabinet that would creak and groan with age and weight. As a wee elf, I was terrified of my great grandmother’s cabinet of curiosity. It was filled with the most terrifying of artifacts: an amber jar filled with pixie dust she gathered from the stone circle in the field below the inn where we lived; the aqua scale from a mermaid who lived in the thick, black waters below Kentraw; a brown bottle filled with the moans of a Highlander who fell at the Battle of Culloden. My older cousins would sneak in and loose the moans and the sound would fly through the house until my great-grandmother caught it and slipped it back into the bottle and place it at the rear of the top shelf.
Barbara McTavish was her name, my great-grandmother, and she loved collecting the unusual. Each time she would find something new, she would pick a different colored container and place it in what she called her “cabinet of curiosities.” When there were family gatherings, she would show off her latest finds and tell stories to explain her latest trades. The bottle of moans she acquired in trade for a cart of thistles she had traded for something else. She was always trading and collecting. The adults always seemed to love her stories and would discuss the details long after the story came to a close. I was a young elf at the time, not more than seven or eight, and the cabinet and her stories freightened me perhaps well beyond reason.
I was twenty when I was packaged up and sent to the United States as a part of the gifts for Hogmanay. I say “packaged up” because we elves have a knack for looking like inanimate objects and are often mistaken for Christmas orniments by the humans with whom we often live if we are seen. Normally, we are not seen, but I lacked the talent of hide and seek that the rest of my family had seemingly perfected.
When I arrived and was unwrapped, I discovered a home with no curiosity cabinet but filled with curiosities. Not like my great-grandmother’s curiosities. Lighter. Different. Pictures and postcards and books and things the woman called knick-knacks and threatened to throw out everytime she had to dust. I was a gift to a twelve-year old child, who liked me well enough that she set me up a shelf in her room, the same shelf with her set of encyclopedias. I spent my day reading the volumes of encylopedia and discovered that they really were not that much different than my grandmother’s cabhttp://i2.wp.com/www.cambriatoytalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/cabinet.jpginet. They were filled with stories and oddities and the unusual, or at least so it seemed to a young elf whose world experience had been limited at that point to a small village in Scotland.
One of the things I learned was that cabinets of curiosity were not limited to elves, although the idea of cabinets has changed over the years. Facebook is a cabinet; Pinterest is a Cabinet. I don’t remember Betty McTavish, the owner of the inn in Kilmartin, having a cabinet of curiosity, but she did love a good ghost story. On the shelf below the encyclopedias, Meg, the daughter, had a whole collection of Ripley’s Believe It or Not books. Most of them seemed quite old, with yellow pages and broken bindings. Years later, when she was teaching, she collected a publication called The Weekly World News and assigned her students to write a story that would fit with the paper. They are cabinets. Some of the stories in those books, although not in the paper, were about tribes who collected shrunken heads and farmers who raised ten legged cows and men who would grow beards so long that they would trail behind them,–just the sorts of things my great-grandmother would have loved to add to her collection.
I have been assigned to take on this blog, an assignment that requires I create a new type of cabinet of curiosity. I have spent a couple of days thinking about cabinets of curiosity and about my great-grandmother’s cabinet and the adults who listened to her stories each time she reached for a new object. Meg says that all people and places and things have stories, and stories are filtered by individual experience. Of course, she also says that all great writers have a Scot in the woodpile or a green elf on a shelf or both.
Time to go explore Google Earth and find my next story.