Things in the family

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Dear Curt, I could understand it when Polly said, ''What for?'' over the phone. I mean after you said it was OK to send along that brass ship's lantern that's been kicking around the garage since your summer job on the docks. Anyway, your mother and I should write you before we did anything.

The condo - you saw the building when you were here - is great. Has a Bay view over Alcatraz, indoor pool, gourmet kitchen (they said), and a no-nonsense tenant association. Very OK for the two of us - but crowded, I guess, for what's in the house.

I have started a sort.

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There's the multivolume Encyclopedia Britannica that pushed you through high school. There's a mothballed carton with your wrestler's ear protectors, senior-year letter sweater, bent snare drum, canoe paddle autographed by 21 campers, four different yearbooks, the steering wheel off your Corvair, some foul-weather sailing gear, and the plant stand you made us in manual arts. Are you ready for these?

I've been using your big office desk and the architect lamp but I don't think we'll have room for them. And there are the two love seats you always liked - they need recovering, but they'd look nice in your den. I hope you haven't forgotten that we're holding those two repacked cartons with the family dishes that Granny Johnson wanted you to have. Then there are the ''forgots'' - stuff we've had stashed away in the basement and places and haven't touched for years.

You should have been here when I opened up the Africa boxes. You'd remember some of it from when I had that summer job in Ghana. You helped us pack it for boat shipment home. At first I had to think back how we got it all. It was from the Nigerian Trader. Were you there then?

Anyway, you'll remember there's not much to do in Accra after dinner. Oh, there was sitting on the garden porch watching the geckos chase insects - boring , you said. So, the uninvited arrival - as I remember - of the Nigerian Trader (driving up in his VW bug crammed with everything on sides, top, and back) was at least a diversion. George came out from the kitchen to tell him in Twi we weren't interested in buying.

But no matter. With a nod and a very flashy smile, he began unloading, spreading things out. I remember telling him in English to wait - we didn't want to buy. We didn't have any money. But he just pulled his dashiki in with folded arms, wagged a finger and said, ''You no speak true at all at all.''

With professional display, he laid out two six-foot white wool handwoven Moroccan rugs; a three-foot-high Senufo figure; two large carved black granary doors; a metal cup (he said it was for keeping gold weights); a stylized lion about a foot long; a tall, colorful Mali headdress, and fistfuls of Ashanti gold weight figures. He kept talking. He persuaded, cajoled, asked, pleaded, enticed - and once sort of threatened - but all the while parrying our refusals with more you-no-speak-true-at-all-at-all.

We did speak true.

We didn't have cedis or United States cash in the house. And to end it all, we said the only thing we could give him was a traveler's check. We thought this would end it. And it did, as he accepted the deal. He'd take that in payment he said and throw in two more smaller masks. Your mother says probably all but the Moroccan rugs are fake.

Well, anyway, tell us as soon as you can whether you want any of this. (Are you reading over his shoulder, Polly?) We are cutting down. And we do speak true at all at all. Love, Dad

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