Saturday, 9 July 2011

Our Past Dies with us.

Yesterday, talking to the blogging friends who called in, we got to talking about possessions and what happens to them after we are gone. It was brought about by the two sea shells on my bedroom shelf - one a shell off Vancouver Beach and the other a razor clam shell off the beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk. I look at these shells often, I pick them up, I marvel that they sit here side by side and yet come literally from opposite sides of the world. I said yesterday that when I die somebody will throw them in the bin as they will have no use and nobody will want them.

We have a prestigious Auction house close to where we live and several times a year they have a Catalogue Sale with viewing days. The farmer and I often go to one of the viewing days and I always feel there is a certain sadness in the air. Dealers in fine arts and antiques, people on the lookout for special items of furniture, glass or pottery - all are going through the exhibits with a fine tooth comb and jotting down in their catalogues exactly how high they are prepared to bid for each item. And I always think that those things belonged to somebody, were loved and looked after by somebody and that many of the pieces had a long history now gone for ever. For example there are often photograph frames with old sepia posed prints in them. Who are these people? Why do their children/grandchildren/great grandchildren not want them on the sideboard?

This brought the TV Programme and the subsequent book - The History of the World in 100 Objects - into the discussion and then we said maybe there should be a blog about one's own life - recording things for posterity.

Thinking about this last evening I thought it would be interesting to take one thing from each decade of one's life and photograph and catalogue that. I might well do that in the future, but in the meantime I have photographed a few possessions which mean a lot to me.

If you came to my house I am sure you would be overwhelmed by the number of things I have on every available table and shelf. I can assure you that each one of these things means something, reminds me of something or somewhere - but when I am gone their history will be gone too.

There is the wooden arm chair which belonged to my Grandfather and which I think he inherited from his father - not worth anything financially but I love it, even though it is not a comfortable chair to sit in.

There is the small statuette of the bull's head which the farmer and I bought in one of our first trips abroad to Salamanca and which sits on the mantelshelf to remind us.

There is the tiny watercoloured box which surprises when it is opened by having two lines from a W H Davies poem painted inside the lid and two grazing cows in the bottom of the box. This box was bought for me one Christmas about ten years ago by a dear friend long dead and I treasure it greatly.

The little china boy sitting with a top hat on his knee belonged to my maternal grandmother and my mother loved it dearly. I have it on my bookshelves where it is a constant reminder of my mother.

The Hummel figurine of the little boy sitting on the fence was bought for me by the man I worked for. I typed up the report of his visit to the Hummel factory and he gave me this as a thank you. It was all many years ago - I was in my early twenties - but it does record an early stage in my life.

Finally, the two long-tailed tits sitting on a branch was bought for me a short while ago by my grandchildren, because they knew I loved birds in general and long-tailed tits in particular. I treasure it because they had given such thought to the present and it sits in a prominent place where I can always see it. My grandchildren are grown up now and all over the place so I rarely see all three together - but this is a good reminder.

I would hate to think these things would end up in a catalogue sale somewhere - but does it really matter? They are only possessions after all and once we are gone does their history matter at all? Maybe not.


Pondside said...

Someone always comes behind to enjoy what we've enjoyed today. I think the main thing is to surround yourself with things that give you pleasure - like your shells, which I wish you'd photographed. I have a large BC clam shell on my bedside table.

Heather said...

I have too many things in my home too Pat and was brought up to value people more highly than possessions. I'm not sure I still have anything from my youth, but do have many gifts and souvenirs from past holidays. I also treasure things which belonged to my grandparents and am still ashamed by the grief I felt when my grandmother's Victorian ribbon plate was broken beyond repair. At the time it was probably the most valuable thing we owned. I kept the shards in a bag for weeks before I could bear to throw them away!

The Solitary Walker said...

Such a great post, Pat. I did enjoy reading it. I kept, of course, meaningful and treasured items of my parents - photos, pictures, porcelain, commonplace books - but most of their stuff ended up in the auction house or on the skip when they died. I suppose we mustn't be too sentimental about the general bric-a-brac - and just keep the very personal, most valued things.

angryparsnip said...

The Laguna Beach fire in 1993 burned my home and the few possessions I held dear from my Mother, childhood and my children. So I really don't have a huge amount of things anymore.
Once I lost the items that were important to me because of the memories, I lost the desire to have things.
I do treasure the cards, letters and paintings my children have given me.

Still have bowls filled with rocks and shells from places I have visited even some with scorch marks on them
I have always collected rocks since I was a little girl.
When you grow up in the West rocks and minerals were part of my childhood.

Great post today.

cheers, parsnip

Michelle Wells Grant said...

I completely agree with you about our special treasures! I have so many that are also on display in my house and they all mean so much to me, but will they be of importance to my daughter or her children after I'm gone? Maybe a few but generally, no. My grandmother's old red leather music box, my favorite candy dish with a little bird on top, the huge pine cone I picked up from my great-grandmother's grave (I never met her but feel such a connection to her for some reason), there are so many things! Thank you for sharing this. (My good friend Midlife Jobhunter sent me over.)

Dartford Warbler said...

What a thoughtful post. I often think of the stories behind those shelves of pretty "knick knacks" that you find in every charity shop. Each of those ornaments belonged to someone who treasured them, but who? And why?

MorningAJ said...

Rats - I just posted a comment and it went blank on me....... I love this post. Thank you for sharing.

Titus said...

Very interesting post, Weaver. Isn't it strange that things that mean so much can become just another item to dispose of after the owner's death - there is a real sorrow in that. I suppose it's different if one owns the odd Picasso or Matisse!
And I smiled at the sound of your house - I have never managed minimalist living, and I frequently despair of the surfaces of my own house. I think the things breed while I'm not looking.

I love the idea of writing about an item from each decade of your life, and really enjoyed the histories of the photos. I rememeber the painted box from a previous post - I covet it!

Gwilym Williams said...

I've never really been an avid collector of any sort of stuff. But I do see that others get great enjoyment from accumulating things. I suppose from time to time I sort of share their enthusiasm second hand in a way. But I never really feel I'm missing out on anything.

I've got a few photos and a couple of letters, some cups and medals for running and half a dozen books - that's basically it as far as my collectables are concerned.

Bit of a boring old fart, I guess :)

Oh yes, I once collected a few Philips videos - Boris Karloff, stuff like that, - but then the system was changed to VHS. That's my collectors luck!

Arija said...

I can envisage the long tailed tits, years from now, being lovingly looked at with the occasional ' remember when we got this for grandma" opening a box of precious memories. Some thing are carried on and become part of someone else's memories, some are discarded. That,after all, is life, the value is not in things, but in things as an aid to memory.

John Gray said...

After my mother died I kept ONE thing of hers
a jam pan....
dont ask me why... for I like you said I didnt need something of hers tokeep

but you know what
I did......

now I feel

KEEP WHAT YOU WANT.....if it feels important to you then dont be prissy

Jenn Jilks said...

It's the journey, not the destination that is important. The things represent your memories, and these are imbued in the pieces.
I firmly believe that as long as we recycle them, they will have value to someone.

Nora said...

I hold on to very few things because I realize they will hold no value to anyone after I'm gone. They could fill a small box. I would hate to burden my daughter with my sentimental junk. I keep cleaning things out and tossing things. I don't want to be attached to items. Just the odd keepsake.

Hildred and Charles said...

Your post is very relevant to what occupies me these days, Pat, as we downsize once again, getting prepared to move. I have set out all the objects that are dear to us and have family associations, and have invited everyone to come and choose what they would like to have. What is left I will keep, but I would like to know that these things are in the hands of others who will treasure them.

Von said...

I know of people who gift all these things to special people in their lives and put a sticker on everything else with the name of the person they want to inherit it.

ChrisJ said...

I wonder what will happen to all my paintings. I must have about a hundred of them. Not good enough to sell but all a part of me. But that's the way of life, I guess. But think, our kids are busy collecting their own memories.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Well, you have all more or less convinced me that it doesn't really matter what happens to our possessions after we are gone and that if my things end up in an auction house then so be it. I do rather like the idea of sticking paper underneath saying who you would like to have certain pieces ane I may well do that - thanks for the idea.

Mountain Thyme said...

My graduate students used to be so grateful to me they would say, "What can I give you?" I would say, some rock from your research or travels. I have rocks from Greece, Hawaii, Coasta Rica, the islands of Alaska, the Seychelles, and really all over the world! It means so much to me and I know will mean nothing to anyone else. But, so what? It is my prize, my gift. It does not need to be something to someone else. It was a rare gift in my moment in time.

Golden West said...

My grandma let each of us eight grandkids pick something of hers while she was still living and she was always delighted when visiting to see us enjoying something she'd once treasured. I chose a pair of hand carved wooden angel heads she and Grandpa had brought home from a trip to Switzerland. It's 35 years later now and I still think of her every time I see the angels.

Dominic Rivron said...

I think that chair is quite comfortable. I should know: I often end up sitting on it when the sofa's full :)