June 2011 remains clear in my memory. I’d had a hectic school year teaching and was facing scans to monitor my cancer’s progression, so a summer project seemed like the perfect distraction. I had painted my bedroom a soft gray and updated the pine bedroom set we’d had for 10 years with cream-colored paint and updated gold hardware. The gold and gray pairing was magical. But I needed more: a statement piece. Something that had a story. Perusing Pinterest, I saw a photo of a pair of chandeliers over a bed.
After several days of surfing Craigs-list, I found a treasure in Huntington Beach—matching midcentury waterfall chandeliers. Until this point, I’d never owned a chandelier. It brought back memories of the one that gleamed over our formal dining table when I was a kid.
At $70 apiece, they were within budget. The address on the listing led me to a suburban “Leave It to Beaver”-style home, where I was greeted warmly by a middle-aged woman. A patterned scarf held back most of her hair, but a few blonde curls had wiggled free and lay glued to her dampened brow. She apologized for the stifling heat and invited me into a living room bursting with stacks of boxes. Her parents had passed away, she told me, and she was cleaning out her childhood home. She escorted me down the matted gold shag of the hallway to her parents’ bedroom, where the chandeliers hung in a naked room. The bed had left a dusty imprint on the carpet, and dingy curtains blocked all signs of the sun.
When she flipped the switch to show me the chandeliers were in working order, their light was strangled by a thick, yellow dust that coated every crystal.
“My dad was