Monday, August 17, 2009

Family Objects

A couple of years ago, when my parents moved from a cluttered 18-room house that had been in the family for over 60 years to a two-bedroom condo, they (obviously) had to divest themselves of lots of stuff.  This was hardly an easy process.  On more than one occasion, my mom told me that the things they were keeping had to be 1) things they loved, 2) things with sentimental value, or 3) things they needed.

Since most of the items they owned fell into these categories, I'm not sure they were important selection criteria, and perhaps if they had ditched the second category, the whole process would have been easier. There were some things that my mom held on to because of a sense of responsibility -- family items that she wasn't necessarily fond of, but felt that she had to keep because of their history.  This might have been why she expressed such surprise (and some disappointment) in the list of items we requested.  In part, I think she wanted our lists to be longer (but why she thought her kids, then in their 40s, who had all been living on their own for decades would take tons of stuff from her is a mystery).  I also think she expected us to value different items -- but I don't know what she expected us to want, since even under direct questioning, she wouldn't suggest or recommend things to us (which might have been useful).

There was a poignant moment at one of the many yard sales they held, when my mother sold two plain glass vases for $4 and lamented that they were hand-blown and had been wedding gifts to her mother (or grandmother -- now I can't remember which).  Of course none of us had known that.  If I had, I might have taken them to replace one of the several pairs of cheap florists vases I keep on hand for decorating for parties and such.

So on a recent visit to see my mom, I encouraged her to share some memories of her possessions so that I might mom's value her things as she does.  Here are some things I learned:

  • Her father made the skinny bookcase with the scalloped top for her mother to fit in the small rooms in the Malden house.  My mom has fond memories of her father's patience in planing wood.
  • The carved wood and upholstered chair (now covered in gold brocade fabric) once belonged to her grandfather.
  • The rocking chair with the deep seat which is upholstered in a light tapestry fabric was her grandmother's rocker.
  • Her father made the doll dressing table to match her mother's dressing table.
  • The doll we always thought was hers might actually have been Barbara Whitney's (a former tenant of my parents, a Smith grad, and a women I came to cherish as I grew into adulthood).
  • She also said her father made a chest full of doll clothes.  I can't picture this piece, but perhaps I'll recognize it when I come across it, since I'm guessing she still has it.
  • The blue doll cradle is from dad's side, several generations back.
  • Of course, one of my mom's most treasured items is the shingled dollhouse her dad made for her.  She let us play with it when we were little but was clearly miffed when we broke or bruised things.  We considered it a toy, but clearly to her, it wasn't.  She never let her granddaughter have it.

We also talked about how she got her first grey hair when her father died.   For many years, she said, she just plucked them out.

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