Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jen's Library: Objects of Our Affection...

Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family's Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time, by Lisa Tracy

Everyone has stuff. Some have a lot more stuff than others, and the stuff can be very hard to get rid of because if you're like me, and like the author, and like most people, you attach a story to most things you own. This is the stuffed animal your grandfather gave you for Christmas when you were five. This is the picture frame you bought in Paris. This is grandma's teacup collection. Everything connects you to a person, an event, a memory, and this makes it hard to give anything away, even when you're overwhelmed.

This is a non-fiction book, where the author digs into the history of her family by looking at the stuff she's left with after having to empty out her mother's home when she dies. Her mother had to do the same when her mother died, and so on - it's a process than never really ends, and leaves you with so many questions about what's worth keeping and for what reasons. It was fascinating, for me, because her family was military and moved around a lot, and she thinks that's why her family in particular was so reluctant to give up their furniture and china and such - it was the only constant they had from place to place. She's got furniture from Thailand, photographs from the civil war, all sorts of neat antiques with almost-famous origins.

Now, that doesn't apply to my family, but we do like our stuff. When I moved out, I brought some things with me that kept me connected with home. And I have so many things here that carry memories. I'm not quite a packrat, and I'm not a candidate for those hoarding shows, but I do accumulate stuff.

I have some of my Grandmaman's fancy teacups on a shelf in the living room. I really need to display them better. Every single time I would visit her, we'd have tea and she would read my future in the tea leaves left in the bottom of the cup. When I was old enough, she started letting me choose from her fancy cups instead of using mugs, and I remember being so happy to be allowed such a huge honor, and being terrified to break something. And she let me choose my favorites to bring with me when I moved down here to the States! How am I ever supposed to get rid of those? I can't!

I have beside me on my computer desk a metal tin that once contained a dozen Cadbury Flake bars. It might be the one I picked up on my trip to Wales to visit my uncle and his family in 1994, or it might be the one I bought on the Stena Line ferry to Hoek van Holland when I was in Europe with Dave and Marketa in 2005. Hard to let go of either, because just looking at them takes me back there. I have to hold back from telling you all about those trips, because all the memories are floating around in my head and my instinct is to keep writing until it's all out. but I'll spare you.

Anyway, this book got me thinking a lot about how much our stuff can mean, and how important it is to learn your stuff's stories before the people who can tell them to you are gone. It was fun to read, and even more fun to walk around the house later and think about how I would explain to an outsider why I have this or that, and what it means to me.

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