Archive for Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Defined by the things we keep

August 15, 2001

It is early morning and the first cup of coffee is downed before the sun has arisen. In the quiet hours, moments of contemplation before footsteps, telephone rings and mechanical sounds take over a day, there is room for reflection, and time to look around. It is then that a person sometimes thinks about things that might not surface otherwise. For instance the things that people collect.

On our hearth is a star-shaped silvery colored quartz crystal embedded in a gray rock. The entire structure is about the size of a softball cut in half and weighs a couple of pounds. I found the stone about 25 years ago in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Most people wouldn't give the rock a second glance, not having lived with it for these many years, or remembering the scent from fir trees warmed by a mountain sun where the rock was found, or even the thrill of finding lodged in a wall, the star-shaped crystal, visible only because something had caused the stone to split. Even so, I wonder why, after I've lived in seven houses since then, and after having carted loads of excess items to thrift shops and Dumpsters, I have clung to this apparently valueless rock.

What is it that makes some things meaningful to us, and can it be that our collections, or the things we keep, somehow define who we are?

Since I was young, I have been a collector of graniteware metal pans that were painted in bright colors and sold in the early part of the 1900s as everyday household items . It was in the fall of 1974 that Mom and I attended an auction at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds where I purchased a blue and white swirl graniteware bucket for five dollars. Even back then I took some ribbing as to having paid that much money for an old bucket. But it was a color combination I still love today. And it reminded me of the weathered kettle in which my grandmother had always planted red geraniums on her shady back porch.

Over the years I continued picking up graniteware, paying 50 cents for one piece, a couple of dollars for another, scavenging through junk shops and antique stores in search of these bright bits of brittle color. I say brittle because if you bump graniteware on the side of the kitchen sink or drop it on the floor the paint doesn't just scratch off it pops off. That's why I don't use my graniteware. Instead of being practical as it was in Grandma's day, it's just decorative or, as some might say useless.

Another useless item I've dragged from house to house is a large seashell. I wish I could say it was a souvenir from an exotic trip I'd remember forever. Instead it was a five-dollar find on a dusty table at a Wichita garage sale. But the lovely pink color of the doorstop-sized shell intrigues me. And of course when held to the ear, there's the sound of the ocean.

Since my eighth Christmas I've kept a charm bracelet that my mother and father gave to me. Each of the 10 charms depicts one of the 10 commandments. I remember wearing it to school when Tonganoxie Grade School days began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer. Imagine taking that now for show and tell in this age of public freedom of speech and suppression of prayer.

In my cedar chest is an orange winter coat, size 2T, that each of my three sons wore when they were little. Today, I can still hold the fleece-lined coat and remember the hugs, smiles and sleepy nods of little boys now nearly grown and yes sled rides in the snow. The coat fits no one in my family now and with its out-of-date style, frayed cuffs and torn zipper I couldn't give it away at a garage sale. Yet I keep it.

In my house are two dried flower arrangements the flowers were blooming the day Fred and I married they've since been carefully dried and remodeled into other bouquets. As long as they are recognizable as the live blooms they once were, these will stay.

All of us find meaning in different things, whether we collect them or not. And in the long run, I'd hazard a guess that these inanimate objects generally are not made of gold or jewels that they're more likely to be things that often would appear to be of little or no value. And yet, one might arguably say these things indicate who we are.

As life moves on, our collections shift and change. Some things we toss, and some things stay with us like bedrock.

At our house, there is a rock on the hearth that in my limited geological knowledge defies my definition, but I wonder could it just be that the rock itself, an inanimate object carted around for decades, is actually, in some vague way, or maybe not-so-vague way, a definition of me?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.