The night before Halloween meant one thing at our suburban New Jersey home. My mom brought her Japanese lantern inside. Every other day of the year, it stood outside like an exotic beauty basking in the sun. Constructed of three pieces of cast iron, the pedestal lantern had a large compartment for a candle, secured by a small latch. Its top fanned out like an umbrella someone had stepped on. My mom feared that the spooks who smashed pumpkins after dark on October 30—Fright Night—would easily overturn lawn decorations, too.
This outside ornament complimented my mom’s collection of similar artwork inside the home: Japanese woodblock prints, a Buddha hand gesturing the Vitarka mudra, and a silk tapestry depicting graceful white egrets. All were treasures from my mom’s Far East travels and highlighted her admiration of Japanese simplicity and her affinity for the Eastern philosophy, Zen Buddhism. Like her lantern, mom was standout in suburbia.
After moving from New Jersey to Salt Lake City, the lantern languished. Perhaps the dry climate didn’t agree with the Japanese beauty or maybe my mom simply forgot about it during the move. It sat in the garage, dismantled, its black sheen slowly fading like invisible ink.
Decades later, I rediscovered the lantern and rejoiced as if I had found the jewel of the Orient. I dusted off the spider webs and placed the lantern safely in my Draper backyard amongst the wild rye grass—a slice of Asia on a desert plate.
Although now safely away from mischievous spooks, the lantern is not immune to the damage of weather demons. Around Halloween time, I wash off autumn’s dander and refresh the lantern with a coating of Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer paint. I continue the role of protector. My mom guarded the lantern and, in doing so, help set the foundation for my love of Asian art and, more specifically, my love and collection of Japanese lanterns. I now have several.
But sometimes, I do wonder: What would my artistic tastes be like if she had collected garden gnomes?