Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pieces of Home - Pieces of History

In the declining season of the year, I'll make a stop at some of the local thrift and antique shops, looking for various tools and things that might be useful in the coming winter, or just perusing items that people have discarded as part of a big Spring and Summer clean.

There's often some junk, valuable only to the person that originally purchased it, for reasons unknown. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say, and for every Popeil Pocket Chainsaw (with Cap Snaffler), there's someone that would buy one. There are also treasures, marked up accordingly, there are small things, that only a certain individual will be drawn to.  There are things that were once worn, things that once graced a home, things in small jars, the buyer peering into them, as if inspecting some curious small life form preserved in alcohol.

In my kitchen are a number of things from such places, a bread box, a scale, glasses and some dishes.  In the shop, even more so, things that previous generations used as they cleared and planted the pitiless earth, crafting what they needed to survive out of the materials at hand, doing so as they endured, the tools, straight, yet nicked and worn, much like the men the held them, twins of the same travail.
So much of what's left in my kitchen, and likely yours, is new, shiny, useful perhaps, but NEW.  It likely will not work as long as the appliances I have, like grandmas stand mixer at Dad's house, still working after 60 years.  When I downsized, I donated a ton of stuff to AmVets but not everyone does.  A lot of people simply "pitch it.  Looking at the many little things that remain, I wonder, fifty years from now, when I'm gone, will it grace another home, or will it be discarded in piles of trash and forgotten?

I came back from a short trip a lifetime ago to find a housecleaning had occurred, during my presence, not of the dust bunny round up, but the purging of "things", of which there really weren't very many in a young couple's home.  But things of value were suddenly missing, or in the process of being hauled away, including a baby grand piano that I bought before we'd even met with a small annuity I got when my Mom died.  It was being hauled off on a farmer's old truck with other things..  Things that would bring money that would pay off the debts of  one who gambled, not just  with dice or cards, but with generous nature of man or machine, taking risks that could prove costly, and typically losing.  The $5000 piano sold for $500. 
I watched quietly as the doors to the moving truck opened up, filling the air with the smell of cold and impending snow, the piano itself sitting there, as if rooted to the ground, in the grip of some dreadful inertia.  Or maybe that was me. 

I wanted to speak out, knowing I would only be met with the voice that had that quality at once, both dismissal and coldness, as though it had no interest in what you would say, or what the words even meant.  Speaking up meant consequence upon soft flesh, bruises hidden under stiff cloth and within a stiff heart. I kept quiet, breath simply taken in, a small gesture of self-preservation, but a part of me left that day on that truck, next to a garden that filled with darkness.
I don't have much now, by choice, but what I have means a lot to me.  Notes from grad school, the chronicles of the disintegration of the human body, what it can endure and what it reveals, the legacy of flesh, the hardness of bone.  Mom's cookbooks, some of Dad's books, on history, on warfare, this big rock with fossilized shells Big Bro found target shooting with Mom and I as kids, which he kept, kept for 40 years, then gave me not long ago.  It had been hidden in a little spot in Dad's work bench.  He knew I wanted it then, he know I still was fascinated by such things, and I pretended it was allergies when he gave it to me 30 years later.

There are things I have that others would look at and simply scratch their head.  A Lollipop with a dried scorpion in it, an old beaker, a small stuffed Hedgehog, a blue uniform type shirt that hangs in the closet, a tiny ceramic skunk. An old violin, one that pales in comparison next to Partner's, one he played in a symphony orchestra in Austria when he was a young man.  It's like sitting a 1986 Saturn next to a Lamborghini.

Yet  that cheap violin was the first one I played, albeit badly, and in the playing came healing, and I again braved a piano bench, an accompaniment of trust as the notes of a violin rose, crystal sounds of loss and hope that swelled up out of the frozen night. 
Then, there is the gun safe, lies pieces of history, protectors of our future, blued and oiled and maintained with slow deliberate pride.  There's revolvers and semi autos, an old Mauser or two, a Garand perhaps, pieces of the past, things taken up, when  an individual rises out of their fear and passivity and takes hold of their future, one that is safer for that possession.

They are important to me, for reasons beyond the value of their form, the appreciation of their worth. Without them I am still strong of spirit, grown that way through  time and adversity, yet against the evil of man, there in the dark, outweighed or outnumbered, I'm simply the flame of one small match and as weak, under a unforgiving moon. 
Also there in the closet, various uniform pieces including the taupe colored ones known as "pinks",  Dads uniform of the 8th Air Force, as crisp and ready for donning, that the almost 70 years that have passed, are but a single note.  On the collar, the little wings with a propeller, still shiny, golden. How they must have glinted on that day he came home, bruises of body and heart hidden underneath stiff cloth, the intake of breath as he saw my Mom for the first time in four and a half years, self preservation giving way to hope, there in a garden that filled with light.

In your home, as well perhaps, as in mine, uniforms of those that went before, carefully maintained, to be passed down, to along to those who will remember.

Where these things are a hundred years from now is not so important as that their stories remain,  notes on night air as laughter again fills a home, the report of a rifle, cleaving the air with the same testament to freedom as when it was first fired.  It's small trinkets and toys that make a child's eyes light up, things that uphold and repair.
It may be fifty years from now, it may be a hundred or more, the land giving birth to new people, old faiths, the blessings and curses of each passing year, bitter winters and golden days unsullied by rain,  those ever changing changeless days that look both at the past and the future.  Someone will pick up that object, just as you did, hefting it up to themselves as they quietly whisper,"I will live forever".

Next time you clean out your closet, your garage, that trunk in the attic, look carefully at what you have, what it might mean to someone.  If it has no emotional connection and is functional, there are many organizations that will cherish it, finding it a use among those that need it. There are students that need instruments, museums that would love the artifacts of war for those with no family remaining sheltering organizations that need household goods. But don't just throw it it, there in that moment when the match is lit and before it might be blown out, there is a small moment of history, one that someone may cherish.
 - Brigid


  1. Two things: first, I thought I was the only one who kept keys for locks long forgotten, only I have a drawer in the kitchen and another in the garage, not to mention keys in my car or on my key ring that I haven't given up on yet.

    Second, on a recent trip from the Valley of the Sun to Wickenburg, Congress, Peoples Valley (one of the most beautiful places on this planet if you're driving north,) and through the back door into Prescott, AZ, we stopped at a number of antique shops (old people do that,) and my bride of 40 years came across a Tupperware bowl, (if you are familiar with Tupperware, you will know they are sold as sets, from humongously large to ridiculously small, all with locking, sealable lids.

    Sadly, not too long ago, our current large bowl was left too close to a hot burner and now has an extra access port that compromises it's secure integrity. In Wickenburg, we found a replacement for $5, which we gladly paid. Our set is once again complete!

    From now on, when she says "Pull in there!," I do; she has an eye for these things!

  2. Yep. I've a turnip twaddler and two (2) count em, two (2) grape peelers one for white grapes and one for red.
    I've got My Grandfather's, My Dad's, My Mom's, (CorningWare, anyone) and My tools and stuff in our shed. I've already started going through 100 years of collecting, and haven't even made a tiny dent in the stuff.
    As you probably know, ALL if it is 'Good Stuff' [TM] and can't be tossed. So it's (they're) gonna be auction/Amazon/eBay-ed off.

    Every visit to the shed is another trip down memory lane.
    Thank you for reminding me.

    Rich in NC
    Most of
    My Daughter has My piano.

  3. So, how does the 15 lb turkey fit into the Popeil 5-in-1 fryer? :)

    We closed on a house right before Thanksgiving, and among the unwanted debris left by the previous owners in the backyard was a 500 lb concrete column.

    Cue the "Mawbul Kawlums" Saturday Night Live sketch. "Who lives there, The Pope?"

    Eventually, all parties came to an agreement for removal of the column, but the initial response to our inquiry about the status of the monstrosity was, "Well we don't want the kawlumn anymore. It doesn't fit the decor of our new house."

  4. I have moved so much, other than a box of heart shaped rocks, a few pieces of fine jewelry (made by small grandkids) and some paintings... I carry my treasures safe in my heart.

  5. My mother is a hoarder. When her dementia forced her into extended care, my sister and I faced clearing out her house. We filled four roll off dumpsters from a two bedroom house. Everything usable went to ARC. An expert looked at everything to see what was valuable.

    For several years, other's castoffs filled my mother's heart with joy. Guess there is a purpose in everything.

  6. How very poignant, yet also a testament to the will to go forward. You as I look back and ahead. I just unearthed some things in a closet here that require closer inspection.

    Know anybody that can scan Kodak 126 negatives =)

  7. It is sad that the younger people today seem to have no respect for things from our past, my parents were married in 1926, in 1931 they moved onto a farm that they leased for a time then made a deal to purchase it I was born in '39. I can remember when they paid the debt off in the early 40's' I remember standing line at the court house to pick up ration stamps to purchase the items that we could not grow so she could can enough to carry us through the winter. There was no government program to feed us-did not work did not eat. It was up a 0330 to get ready to milk 50 cows (by hand) and the only light we has was a Coleman lantern that dad purchased in 1926 and used until the middle 1940,s I still have that lantern and it still works. Life great we did not have the finer things in life. Dad sole the farm in 1957 but retained four acres and the house and garage. it is a four car garage and it is full of item that have been collected, My parents passed on in the1970's and my wife, child and my self moved into the home place. My son is a good person but he could care less about any thing from the "OLDEN" days so he will most likely auction every thing off when wife and I leave this world. (SAD) not many people care. Sorry to take so much space feel free to delete this if it is too long.

  8. Don't forget historical societies. School bulletins, menus, church flyers, Scout mailings, anything that relates to the locale can be useful to historians of the future. Ephemera. Better it go to the historical society than landfill. Someday in the future the ephemera may help someone understand the realities of real families in the 50's or 60's. Not all history made the 6 o'clock news.

  9. They say Archaeologists learn the most about ancient cultures by examining their garbage. I shudder when I think about how they will view us.

  10. And not just about keeping the important stuff, a lot is about using the important stuff, almost every time I use the lathe or the mill, I connect with my father, he used those precision measuring tools every working day. (Although, I don't know when I will ever use a planer gauge, nor why I have two of them.)

    Thank you.

    John in Philly

  11. Memories come in all sizes & shapes.....


  12. Apparently I have some weird thing for rescuing chairs. Currently, I have four armchairs in the house, one a Morris chair with the original sticker on it, and another 1930s wing chair with the original petite-point cushion. There are also six assorted dining room chairs in various stages of refinishing. Plus another set of six in the garage that were second-hand in the 1930s and more walnut ones in storage along with another curved back armchairs. I'm starting to think I have a problem. (And I didn't even mention the camelback sofa ...)

  13. Murphy - good find on the tupperware bowl. My Mom always had some of that. Your wife has a good eye.

    Rich in NC - I've gotten rid of so much, but what I kept is very special to me.

    Roscue - I can only imagine how that looked.

    Brighid - indeed.

    Well Seasoned Fool - I worked with someone like that years ago. You could literally only walk in small corridors between chair, bed, stove and bathroom. She never did laundry, buying new clothes, piling the rest up. So sad, but apparently, for some, it gives comfort.

    Keads - no I don't, you might look for a larger camera retailer and see if they have any contacts.

    old oakie - Dad was hoping my brother would live in his house when he passed, now it will go to my brother's children. I'm sure they'll sell it, they have lives and jobs in cities far away. A lot of memories in that old house, ones I carry with me.

    Windy - my Mom used to save calenders. I remember some of the postings on them - "made a cake for church today", or "bridal shower for M.". I think Dad threw them out but they were like little journals.

    Gray - I'd hate to think I'd be judged by what was in my recycling bin (after some friends over they'd think the house was a home to 30 drunken Irish hooligans)

    John - a friend sent me some antique reloadiang tools. I will treasure those.

    Merle - indeed.

    Nancy R - two morris chairs in the basement being redone, six dining room chairs with beautiful wood that need new fabric covers. I understand the problem, they just keep following us home.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..