She sat on her father's lap. He has just finished reading her a poem by a writer whose name she remembers today as Fiona McCall. It must have been a fortuitous moment, because in his heavy western drawl he said to her, "I'm gonna' call you my little Fiona!"
That moment defined a child who would become an inspiration to those who visit her gift shop. It's where treasures are found. The shop, Fiona's Gifts and Antiques, is nestled at 3463 N. Verdugo Road in Montrose. Fiona, now 91, has been there since 1961.
I was drawn to the shop because of the antique dishes, teacups and teapots. After several visits, I realized that the real treasure was Fiona herself. I thought of J.R.R. Tolkien's clue, posed in his novel, "The Hobbit": "A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid."
My mother was a collector. When I left home at 18, she gave me her antique demitasse cups, which had belonged to her grandmother. I still have them. I love their gentle elegance. Symbols of peace, comfort, civility and conversation, they represent a time when refinement was defined in simple terms.
I, too, became a collector. Some thought it strange that I would relish teacups. Maybe it was a way to mitigate the barbarous world that I once inhabited.
For me, the name "Fiona" stands on its own, just like the names "Cher" and "Madonna" do. The mere mention of the name invokes an image that defines the subtleties of pleasantry and homespun wisdom. "If life has handed you a cactus, don't sit on it; do something about it," she says.
When you visit her shop, look beyond the antique aura of Fiona's collection of memories. She is the conduit between the past and the present. The figurines and accoutrements that lay dormant throughout are vestiges of what lies within her. When I purchase an antique from Fiona's, I feel its storied past.
She's similar to Mr. Geppeto, the character in Carlo Collodi's famous 1881 fable, "Pinocchio," in that the love that she bestows upon her shop, her wares and her customers infuses life into everyone in her world.
Fiona greets you with a warm smile and heartfelt pleasantries. As she offers you hot cider and a cookie, you are assimilated into an experience, not a place. Fiona's epitomizes a bygone era unknown in our fast-paced existence. It's like going home, or what home should be.
Her witticisms are proverbs: "Be kind to people, be positive and make the best of what you have." As I peruse her world, I am reminded of the biblical passage from Hebrews, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
Fiona's papa was a rolling stone. So she never had a steady home, put down roots or established lifelong friends. "I didn't have much of a childhood; so life is much more precious," she told me. "I always wondered what it was like to have a home. So I built one." And so from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Fiona tends to her shop and is the perfect hostess to her customers.
I am astounded by the connections she has to her shop. "That's mother's old china closet," she said. "Over there is father's linen press." She beams with pride as she shows me her early 1900s cash register. The bricks that line Fiona's were scavenged from torn-down buildings in Los Angeles.
It's rare to find one who connects. The British writer E.M. Forster reminds us, "Only connect!"
I finished my cider and polished off two more cookies. Fiona gave me an antique picture that Kaitzer had ordered three years ago. We forgot, and so did she.
I left richer than when I entered, realizing as I left her shop of treasures that Fiona doesn't realize that she is the real treasure.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche explained it best when he wrote, "One's own self is well hidden from one's own self; of all the mines of treasure, one's own is the last to be dug up."