The Lion, the Wish, and the Wonder

We were in the throes of moving a few weeks ago, from our small apartment to a larger house, so that working and studying from home will be a little easier on all of us. We were unloading our second big haul of the weekend, and I was placing something in the bottom of the hallway closet for the first time. The bottom-most shelf is about 18 inches above the floor, so I had to really get down there to organize things. As I was lowering myself to the floor, I noticed a metal box built into the wall. Just an old alarm system, nothing exciting. Upon closer inspection, though, I found a little package, a box just big enough for a Christmas ornament, wedged between the alarm box and the shelf.

I moved so many times in my childhood that I’ve lost count. I read enough fiction that with every move, I had a secret wish of finding some little treasure in the next house. It wouldn’t have been happenstance either, like in a book, because I would intentionally search every corner, every shelf, and the furthest reaches of cabinets and closets. I never found anything growing up, but in this moment, I felt the culmination of all those searches.

I pulled the box out of the closet and excitedly called everyone over. It was small and white with broken tape across the top, covered in dust. I opened it to find bubble wrap that was stiff with age, which I gently shimmied out of the box. Inside the bubble wrap was a palm sized, amber colored, glass blown winged lion. I held it up to the light, and it reflected the same amber color onto the floor. Francesco (my fiancé), my 18yo son, his girlfriend, and I oohed and ahhed over it. I remembered there was writing on top of the box that I was too excited to read before opening: “glass lion st marks.”

My online query confirmed Francesco’s theory — it’s likely Venetian blown glass (although nothing so fancy as Murano), a souvenir from someone’s visit to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. I was immediately reminded of a trip with my daughter to Italy, during her senior year of high school. Part of the itinerary had us all, students and chaperones, crowded into the tiniest studio, up the narrowest stairwell, to watch a detailed and fascinating demonstration of how the glass is blown in Venice.

I placed him on the table in the foyer, on a small pedestal, facing the front door – our guardian. Today (weeks later), I was reminded that my mother, who passed away recently, was a Leo, born August 14, 1958. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to relate this to her because we had a complicated, mostly estranged relationship. It wouldn’t be natural to connect her to something so auspicious. She wasn’t protective or even present. I wonder now, though, if this is perhaps her gift to me. Now that she’s at peace, she finally has some light to offer.


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