Five years ago I wrote about the coming surge of property transfers as the Baby Boomer generation haltingly succumbed to the problem of having too much stuff. As The Greatest Generation leaves us, we have inherited not only our parents’ things, and their legacy of accomplishment, but also their survival instinct for saving.
My post of December 2014 “What’s Coming Next” was prescient, and we are living it daily.
We have personally taken ownership of art, photography, china, silverware, correspondence and numerous pieces of furniture. A few of these items have passed immediately to our children, but some pieces are beyond their desires, or capacities. In our case, we are the latest owners of three antique clocks and a ship model that defies the march of time.
The Malek Adhel
My grandfather, Dr. James Harrar, lived in New York for many years where he was an obstetrician. Sometime in his early 50s, around 1937, he started building ship models. These were works of discipline: intricate, incredibly complex recreations of planking, masts, yards and rigging. We had two of his creations.
The Malek Adhel was in my childhood home in Delhi, placed on the piano well above my head as I practiced in vain below. Still, I marveled at the wooden ship model, and visualized tiny crew members scurrying across the decks, securing fly away halyards or rolling miniature cannons into position.
The Malek Adhel, named after a Turkish sultan, was a brig that sailed the Caribbean around 1840. The ‘Molly Coddle’ as we called it, had some history attached to it, being the subject of a piracy charge, under the direction of its Captain Nunez. It was notorious enough that in 1937 Popular Science Magazine published the building plans over 5 issues. Apparently in those pre-war years, ship modeling was a popular pastime.
My grandfather wrote for the detailed blue prints. He went to work and recreated the ship. He wasn’t alone. If you Google the ship’s name with ‘model’, you will find numerous images.
This is a treasured and obscure art object. When we emptied our parents’ house, it was kept under wrap until a brief display in my brother’s home for a few years. But he too was looking for downsizing, and the Malek Adhel was shunted from one resting place to another before finally repatriating to the U.S. in the back of our car.
The journey, and exposure and time have not been kind. The spars were dislodged. The rigging made of 80-year-old cotton thread had disintegrated. The joints which were once glued, freely dissembled with every bump in the road. Its sorry condition reminded us of the sunken ghost ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Still, there was an obligation to restore the Malek Adhel. On my workshop bench I uncovered a little box of tools that my mother had given to me thirty years ago. “Here, keep these,” she instructed, “these are the tools your grandfather used to make his models.” I opened it up to look at small tweezers, drills, snips and a spool of golden thread.
I placed these on the bench beside the ship. On close inspection, I concluded that pretty much all of the rigging would need to be replaced. Not only did that include 50-60 halyards arcing from the gunwales to the masts, but also a host of little coils carefully wrapped around microscopically small belaying pins. Oh, the care grandad had taken.
My first reaction was to order a pair of magnifying spectacles. These are what stamp dealers, jewelers and dentists use. After fitting them I ventured into the works, and owing to my clumsiness, broke every halyard my fingers approached. While the glasses were 3.5 strong, I was more than 10 strong, and thrashed through the rigging like a banshee. So I struggled with every re-do, sans spectacles.
A month later, I performed the final act of hanging a new stars and stripes on the rear gaff. It has 26 stars, which totaled the history of our nation in 1837, 182 years ago.
Today, the Malek Adhel resides inside a glass case in my office. It is at nose level for small people.
Thanks for reading and sharing! I’ll tell you next what we did with a grandfather clock from the early 1800s.