Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The history of objects

I spent a few days among conversations regarding the history of family possessions. I’ll assume you can figure out roughly why. My parents both grew up during the war. You know the one, the one right after the Great War, known as the War to End All Wars. If you are from a family that fled repeatedly, you might have noticed what a toll that takes on how many things your family has from the old days. We have a few books. Part of a plated silverware set. Some photos. Not much.

My grandfather gave a stranger the coat off his back once. Back when that meant something. We’ll have to explain these things to our children. No, he couldn’t go home and put on another one. No, he couldn’t get another one at the store. A similar, yet different, scenario is the best scene in
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (spoiler below).

When the older generation dies, who will remember the stories behind the common humble objects? The spoon that doesn’t match, worn with use? The cracked children’s book, yellowed and falling apart? How long will we remember our family history, and the choices that were made under pressure, of what to save and what to leave behind?

How will our kids have any emotional connection to their possessions, when they are overwhelmed with plenty? I justify our filled bookshelves and toy chests with the “I bought it used! It was cheap.” motto. My parents always say, the only two things no one can take away from you are education and the memories from traveling. Which can probably be condensed down to just education, really. They have a valid point.

A rich lady is fleeing Paris, slowly and with all her worldly goods and luxuries. She thinks it’s fun and generous to hand out candies to the local kids, until she goes to buy more and realizes that the war has caught up with her enough that the stores are empty. At that point she panics and hoards the rest for her own family.

1 comment:

Shea's Mom said...

Nice post.

My mom's mother died in childbirth with my mother so I never really had a grandma who ever set stuff aside for us.

No one who wanted this special bowl to go to her granddaughter or whatever.

I sorely miss what I never had.