Objets du Coeur
“When my mother passed 22 years ago, my siblings weren’t interested in most of her possessions (just as today, I’m told, many children don’t really want their parents’ old photos and dishes). But I took everything I could from the five-bedroom Victorian house where she had spent the last 13 years of her life as a widow. From my former bedroom, I rescued my great aunts’ parlor chairs (and paid a hefty price to have them refurbished because my mom’s cats had destroyed them). Great Aunts Etta and Ida, two ‘spinsters’ (one a retired librarian, the other a retired teacher with a broken hip) lived on our second floor when I was a child. They invited me into their rooms for Johnny Cake straight out of the oven (there was a kitchen upstairs as well as the only bathtub), and I watched as they played Scrabble sitting in those chairs.”—Kathryn E. Livingston
Words & Wonder
By Kathryn E. Livingston
BOGOTA New Jersey—(Hubris)—1 May 2023—My house is cluttered; I know I should be calling in Marie Kondo to resolve the matter. I’m aware that all these tchotchkes are not appealing to others, they collect dust, and they probably reflect my monkey mind. But . . . these objects hold stories I hold close to my heart, and stories are what writers are about. De-cluttering is in, but I believe it’s over-rated.
When my mother passed 22 years ago, my siblings weren’t interested in most of her possessions (just as today, I’m told, many children don’t really want their parents’ old photos and dishes). But I took everything I could from the five-bedroom Victorian house where she had spent the last 13 years of her life as a widow. From my former bedroom, I rescued my great aunts’ parlor chairs (and paid a hefty price to have them refurbished because my mom’s cats had destroyed them). Great Aunts Etta and Ida, two “spinsters” (one a retired librarian, the other a retired teacher with a broken hip) lived on our second floor when I was a child. They invited me into their rooms for Johnny Cake straight out of the oven (there was a kitchen upstairs as well as the only bathtub), and I watched as they played Scrabble sitting in those chairs. Guests at my New Jersey home admire the chairs without knowing their past; when I look at them I see two regal elderly ladies, sisters sworn to each other for life.
I also inherited the now-dilapidated couch (originally made of black horsehair) my great grandparents—who lived in a farmhouse outside of our home in Schenectady, New York—sat on when they came to visit. Again, mostly destroyed by cats, no one was interested. And, no one knew that upon that very couch—now in my living room—my later-to-become-husband and I exchanged our first kiss when I was a junior in high school.
In my stash of Lenox Christmas mugs are two interlopers I bought in fourth grade for my mother’s present on a trip to Woolworth’s. I believe they were 50 cents each (possibly less), and I paid with my allowance. One depicts a raccoon, the other, a bunny (now greatly faded), and I treasure these old cups as if they are priceless glass goblets. For me, they hold the story of a child’s gift for a beloved parent.
Few know that the Tiffany ring I wear on my little finger was bought for me by my husband on our 25th wedding anniversary because every other ring he had ever given me I destroyed (not purposely of course). The silver ring, with the tiniest embedded garnet ever seen, literally cannot be accidentally damaged. For me, the ring holds a story about the endurance of love, but no one until now has ever known that.
I have hundreds of objects and hundreds of stories that go with them. Clearly, I can’t put a sign on each declaring, “Don’t destroy me!” But some day, the objects will go to the Goodwill, and even if they are kept the new owners will have to create their own stories around them. And that’s as it should be.
So what, you may ask, is the point? The point is that these objects, and more importantly, the stories they hold mean something to me (just as yours mean something unique to you). And so, the hell with de-cluttering (and no! digital copies will not do). I will keep what I wish—my bins of old photos and books, my mother’s navy-blue wedding dress, scads of jewelry with tales to tell (including my grandmother’s crystal necklace), my father’s wool vest, and so, so much more.
Except one thing . . . a heavy, utilitarian frying pan I’ve been hanging on to for 45 years. I swear I was either told or simply imagined that this heavy, unattractive pan with the cracked handle belonged to my husband’s grandmother and was a family heirloom (much like the rolling pin that was indeed hers). But this past Christmas I received a set of classy, non-stick pans from my eldest son, and as I lifted them from the box, I knew in my heart that it was time to say adieu.
But could I really? Would it feel right? After all, it was Grandma Libby’s. Or so I believed. I mulled the question over for a few days, and then asked my husband. “I know this frying pan was your grandma’s . . . but what do you think? Can I let it go?”
He looked at me like I was a lunatic (not an uncommon occurrence). “That old thing? That belonged to Junie’s aunt or somebody else in her family.” (Junie—not her real name—being his girlfriend prior to me.)
“What? I’ve been holding onto this for 45 years because I thought you told me it was your grandmother’s!”
My husband shook his head sadly. And perhaps (I’m not sure) guiltily. “Nope.”
Swiftly—and with no regrets—I tossed the useless thing in the trash.
We cannot throw out some things. Uneaten Communion Bread fed to the birds comes to mind. When one of my 3 brothers retired at age 50 and moved to the mountains of deep central Mexico, he left me with a solid concrete garden statue of St. Francis – that had cracked in half in a previous life and yet still stacked as if whole – as long as it was left alone.
Recently, a squirrel knocked it over and in the fall, it broke into another piece, at the neck, and it could no longer stack into a stable form.
I bought a new garden statue of St Francis and under the platform I created for it, I buried the concrete head of its predecessor.
Cannot keep some things, yet cannot send them to the landfill. The earthworms will keep it comany until some surprised future gardener will not have a story to go with an unidentified concrete head.
Ahhh, Dan, Kathryn will love this story, when she sees it. You are one of my most rarae of aves, and I am so, so grateful you read us, and hearten us, here at “Hubris.” Love, Elizabeth
Indeed, Dan, this is a story that warms my heart. I would never throw out a St. Francis statue, with head or not. Thank you for your tale of buried–and above ground–treasure!