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