From The Song Collector, a novel by Natasha Solomons
There has been a lot written about “decluttering” in the last few years and about how liberating getting rid of stuff is. I have experienced this liberation by downsizing to a very small and manageable wardrobe. However, I still have a lot of “stuff”, in the form of “knickknacks” and paintings and other more useful objects but for me, they all tell a story.
I just randomly walked about my place taking photos of some of my stuff and thought about the stories attached to them. I could fill up many pages on this subject but here are a few:
This little “tuatara” was made by Sam when we lived at Akaroa and he wrote an illustrated story to go with it. The story is in a box somewhere, but it went something like this-
There is a tuatara in my garden, I see him now and then. One day I caught it and said, “It’s mine!” But the tuatara looked very sad so I let him go. There’s a tuatara in my garden, I see him now and then.
To me this sweet story was not only emblematic of my son Sam’s personality but also a portent of things to come. He is now an ecologist and really enjoys taking care of endangered species and gets great pleasure from exploring our islands in search of creatures of all hues.
This next photo was of an experience many decades earlier. They are a beautiful set of Beatrix Potter metal figurines. I came by way of these perhaps a little covetously. I went to play at a friend’s house, and he gave them to me. I didn’t ask for them, so I guess they were freely given, but I did love them. His name was Andrew, and he was a shy little boy who wore his shirts buttoned tightly to the neck. I liked him and his quiet house; I was from a large family with no silent spaces anywhere. His mother saw that he had given them to me, and I could tell from the pursed lips that she was annoyed. I don’t blame her as they are lovely and were maybe quite expensive. However, she was too polite to take them back from me.
Around eight years ago I tracked my former playmate down to tell him I still had them, as I thought that if he had children or even grandchildren he might like them back. He quickly replied and said I must keep them. He said he was a bit bullied at school and that I had been kind to him. I can’t imagine or remember, being that altruistic at all and only remember picking on a poor girl because she was adopted and befriending Amber A because her mother worked at Cadburys and they had little bowls of chocolates all about the house. Wow! We didn’t even have those at Christmas. To be fair, I did love playing with A.
I look at these figurines and remember that tender moment in my life with great fondness.
This next object is representative of a huge range of beautiful gifts from my dear friend Bev, who died during the first Covid outbreak and I have written about her before. Whenever she came to stay, we dined out (prawns mainly) and went shopping in our favourite haunts. Bev and Sam were a mutual admiration society that was boundless. They spent hours and hours together planting flowers, drawing, listening to music, rock pooling, reading and talking. And I mean really talking about sounds, flowers, birds, flute playing, worms, seashells and the meaning of life generally. She was a very significant person in our lives, and I miss her.
I can’t remember which time Bev gave me this little cherub, it’s typical of her interest in simple design and I regularly pass this in the hallway and think of her. It’s probably meant to be a Christmas angel but it’s out here 12 months of the year. I think that is the thing about objects with stories. Encapsulated in that image is Bev’s blonde hair, her voice, her relationship with Sam, our deep friendship and her loyal support for our wee family
The print below is a far more substantial gift from Bev, and it is probably my most treasured art print that Sam will one day inherit. It is a print done at the turn of the century of a Piccasso dove. It has such an air of serenity and calm about it and I am thinking of the dove of peace even more at the moment. This is only one of a number of prints Bev and I bought both for her home and mine from our favourite print shop that was in Devonport but I think has moved. I have never tired of looking at this print and if I am only allowed one object in my room in the old folk’s home then I want it to be this.
Both prints below were purchased from this same shop over the years, but it is the red girl that has a bigger story. I sometimes went to the print shop on my own and I spotted her and really liked it. I even took it up to the counter, but I think finances were a bit short and I thought I’d better not. At least six months later, Bev and I were again together browsing the print shop and from across the large show room, Bev held up the print and said you’ve got to have this. And she was right. We did seem to have a synchronicity about some things and Bev could read me very well.
Bev embroidered this exquisite piece for Sam when he was a baby. It is so simple and the colours so “us” and I absolutely love it. Maybe one day it will hang in a family nursery but if not, I will always enjoy it in my bedroom.
The embroidery below was done by my oldest sister and is such a work of art and precision, something I would be completely incapable of doing. She knows me and the colours I love and that I am a Francophile and this is a little French embroidery.
This watercolour is of Akaroa township where Sam and I lived for a couple of years. I won it in a raffle and it takes me back to our time there and how different the town was in winter compared with summer. There were very few tourists, so it was just the locals and we had many a merry time at curry night Tuesdays or drinking at the pub while the kids played on the back field.
Below is this weird kind of little puzzle picture where you can move the pieces around. I bought it in Mirepoix when I took Sam to the Pyrenees for six months. I don’t really know why I like it, but the shop was just like this in its environment, and it was such a peaceful place to visit and not like any shop I’ve seen since. The people in the shop made them.
The bowl below is a more practical souvenir, after all souvenir comes from the French “souvenir” meaning to remember and from the Latin “subvenire”, “occur to the mind”. I bought this in a later trip to France from Carcassonne, a well-known chateau/castle near where we used to live. I think of my time there, every time I use it.
Maybe I’m just trying to justify the stuff in my place, but I do think objects can trigger happy memories of people, times and places. I have occasionally watched those hoarding programmes though and felt a shiver of recognition. I like to think that pretty much anything I have out on display are triggers for special moments in my life. However, I do not expect or want the son and heir to ever feel obliged to keep my stuff as they are mostly my memories not memories for him. Chuck it all out Sam, if you want to.
Fluffy George, after whom this blog is named was sent to me by my English grandmother and as I was the last of six children under the age of 8 years old I suspect gifts for the sixth baby were few and far between. If you look closely, Fg has a neat darn on his forehead because he was washed and leant against the fireguard to dry. It was a fiery fire and he got quite scorched. My mother was an excellent seamstress and darned his head with linen thread to hold him together and cover up the burn.
And lastly, it is never about the value of a “thing”, it’s about the sentiment behind it. I suppose I could photograph stuff and dispose of it but let’s just say I’m not ready to do that. Sam bought me this little hand painted elephant on a trip to Vietnam and I love that it’s a lucky elephant because of its uplifted trunk and because it has hearts on it and because Sam stood in some faraway place and thought of me. Elephants also remind me of Sam. They are vegetarian and never knowingly harm other animals. They believe in family bonds and take care of others. They say we should be playful like the baby elephant and calm like the adult elephant. An elephant is steady, stable, gentle and non-temperamental unless provoked.
Elephants are revered as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, destroyer of evil, remover of obstacles, as well as strength, power, wisdom, memory and vitality. Okay, enough about elephants but you can see how objects do hold stories.
I could post a hundred more photos, but you get the gist. If you have a mind to, please post an object about which you have a story.
My recommended book this time is A Terrible Kindness. It is a top ten NY best seller about a young and gifted embalmer, believe it or not. William Lavery is 19 years old when he graduates into the profession and on the night of the awards dinner a telegram is delivered about the terrible Aberfan coal mine slip disaster, October 1966. William decides immediately to go and assist with the bodies of the many children buried inside the school. This “terrible kindness” has widespread ramifications for his future. Keep a tissue handy.
Go well everyone, the news is unrelenting so give yourself a break and binge watch the second series of Bridgerton with a cake of chocolate in hand. It worked albeit briefly, for me. FG
6 Replies to ““Objects divorced from their stories are down-graded to mere knick knacks.””
My piece of Copenhagen Porcelain. Mum wanted me to buy a piece. I found him in Copenhagen, and loved him more than any flash piece of porcelain!!!.
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My wife and I have had ten cats. We have them cremated when the end comes. Their ashes return to us in a little box with a small steel tag attached. My bedroom looks like it could belong to a teenager, with stuff tacked up all over the place so, rather than hiding them away in a box, I tack them up on the corners of posters and other places. It feels like they are still here with me.
This was a great post, thanks a lot.
This was a lovely post. I don’t know if i can do it justice but will give it a go.
Your journey reminded me of my own and of my mother’s porcelain shoes. Her father gave one when she was – oh maybe – 5. She loved it though I’m not so sure about the too many more she received as presents over the years after that first one. After her funeral, I brought the ones I’d given her over the years back with me to New Zealand. Now I look at them and think as you did “Who will want them”? ‘What will become of them’? My neighbour is 86. He sold his house yesterday and will move into a retirement village, quite close to where we are now. Last week he bought a skip and tossed so many things into it. The other neighbours scavenged through his late wife’s needlework and craft books, old pots and rusting tools. half-completed crossword puzzle books.
Sometimes objects we loved, or were loved by others we may have loved, just end up elsewhere – and yes – divorced from us and from their stories.
So glad you are writing again Sue.
Thanks Susan, I just found this in my Spam folder. Yes, maybe a photograph will suffice sometime soon…..
I have a rock – more than a kilo of rock from a cold, stony beach on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia. Imbedded in it is the outline of an ancient seashell, a remnant of the time when the Andes were slowly thrust up from the ocean floor. I could hardly believe the sight of it – so high up, about same altitude as Aorangi if I remember rightly. It weighed my suitcase down on the way home, 20 years ago, and I’ve kept it though three house moves. Every now and again I think I should chuck it. It’s just a small rock after all. But I like how it reminds me of the massive age of Earth and how fleeting everything else is. And there it still is, currently serving as a door stop. 🙂
Don’t chuck it!