Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finding treasure


The emotional power held within temporal objects is sometimes shadowy. I keep a handful of china pieces, handpainted by my paternal grandmother, because she made them. But yesterday, I felt a deeper, visceral pull.
In my blog-hopping, I visited Elizabeth Wix's About New York and discovered a feast for the eyes. She featured a post on plates, of all things, and linked to numerous other blogs in a round-up. The beauty or memories to be found in our cupboards is astounding.
Looking at my grandmother's pieces, I recalled the care she took with her home and garden--always aesthetically pleasing and immaculate. She wanted beauty and she made it--mostly by hard work.
My other grandmother lived in reduced circumstances, many of her years were in a rented attic apartment in Brooklyn. She worked hard, too, caring for mothers and newborns. She sewed outfits for the dolls my paternal grandmother bought for me. And she also sold, on the side, little dustcloths she made by stitching a colorful fabric hand on a plain cloth so you could slip your hand into it. Sweet, but not a money-maker. I have her china custard cups from Bavaria and the bright Nippon china she acquired, and I realize how precious these few things were.
Through these objects belonging to my grandmothers, I connect with memories of childhood, which may shimmer out-of-focus, but can be quite specific in detail. For instance, I can remember the security and love I felt during car rides on frosty winter days, snuggled up against my grandmother's beaver coat, my small hand rubbing the fur back-and-forth to change the sheen.
Not only did Elizabeth get me to look with fresh eyes at my china, her blog, which is filled with fabulous photographs, catapulted me back to my younger days in New York. My entire family comes from there, but I spent most of my life in other places. Her photographs of cafes, brownstones, kids on field trips, flower markets and people's feet on the subway were like coming home. New York, despite its immense size, can be very much a village.
Look around. Are there any objects you haven't thought of for awhile that fill you with memories and emotion? I'd love to hear about them.

15 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Loved this post --obviously since you are so kind about me.
But I did get great joy from seeing the pleasure everyone took in showing off their treasured plates and other china.
I see you are fairly new to blogging. I warn you -it is both a delight and an addiction.
All best wishes

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, what a lovely surprise to have you drop in for a visit, Elizabeth! I wish I could serve you some tea and a slice of tart on a pretty plate. Thanks for the kind words, and I'll try not to become an addict, although it is enticing.

PJ Hoover said...

It's gorgeous! And the best part about things like this is really trying to understand why your are emotionally attached to something. In a material world, this is the only way to make things count.
Great post!

Laura Canon said...

I'm constantly intrigued by the inner lives of inanimate objects...the values different people put on them, the care or lack of care taken by subsequent owners. I hope you can use this in your writing. It's such a deep topic.

MG Higgins said...

"Snuggled up against my grandmother's beaver coat." Now there's a wonderful, sensual image. I remember a small, handpainted pitcher in my childhood home similar to the one in your photo. My mother used it to serve hot dessert sauces. The pitcher itself looked rich and delicious, like I could have eaten it right along with dessert.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PJ: Quite true. I know some objects help me feel close to those who are gone, such as a china mermaid vase that belonged to a friend who died of AIDS and a watercolor painted by another friend whose mind slipped away before her body. When I look at those things, I remember the beautiful, vibrant people they were.
Laura: I think you are right that the deepest writing, that which will resonate most, comes of delving into topics like this.
MG: Yum. I like the sound of that pitcher. It's amazing how alive with meaning objects can be.

Bish Denham said...

I am blessed to have many things passed down from my great-grandmothers. In our family the china, crystal, silver and linen were loved by being used for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Using it taught my sister and me how to handle and care for it. But the real joy is sitting down to an elegantly set table and eating off plates my great-grantparents ate off of. There is a deep emotional connection, visceral, genetic, as mouth wraps around fork, as lips touch the rim of a wine glass.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: Thanks for this lovely memory. I like what you say about using the pieces. So often we tuck them away for safe-keeping. My mother-in-law took the approach that beautiful things should be used, be part of life, and she filled her home with so many things of beauty that she educated everyone who entered there. I have heard many of her younger friends mention how their lives were broadened by her cultural influences. Mine certainly was.

Dave said...

You got me thinking about objects that my mom had on bookshelves and by the windows when I grew up. There was a Peruvian head that totally freaked me out. It was carved from black clay and had a look that made me think of the heads on Easter Island and weird rituals. Contrasting that was the wood carving with a simple saying that seemed to mean a lot. It said something like:

Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, through prayer and petition, let your requests be known unto God.

It's weird how picturing those two objects brings to mind the house and the hallways, a certain point in time, and I feel like I can walk through the past like I was just there--like in a strange way I still am. Spooky, becasue that dang Peruvian head is still there staring back at me through time and space.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ha! Dave, that memory of the Peruvian head sparked another for me. The same grandmother that made the handpainted china had a table lamp that really was horrid. As a child, I stood nose-to-nose with a turtle that had been hollowed out and glowed with light bulb inside it. I spent a lot of time staring at it in fascinated horror. Oh, the tales we may tell about these things....

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Thanks for the great info on my blog. :)
Love this post. One of my fav treasures is my grandmother's old recipe box. Some of the recipes are so old that they don't make the brand of ingredients she lists anymore. I love looking through them and seeing her handwriting or chocolate thumbprints on the cards. :)

Tess said...

Hello, Tricia. Thanks for visiting my blog :D

I, too, like heirlooms and the meaning attached to them. I am blessed to have some china, silver, handiwork and glassware from grandmothers on all sides. I hope my children will treasure them when I eventually pass them down...

In fact, in my novel, I have a passage where the mother sells her only heirloom to help a boy. It is one of my favorite bits.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

*Karen: Oooo, chocolate thumbprints and brands not made anymore are two delicious details.
*Tess: So cool that you used heirlooms in your novel. I can never forget that story (was it O. Henry?) about the girl who cuts and sells her hair to buy a watchchain for her love, and he sells his watch to buy her a haircomb--so poignant.

Pat Murkland said...

Wow, this sparked so many memories. Thanks, Pat. I treasure my grandmother's button box. It holds her story of my family, her struggles and thrift during hard times, and celebrations of family milestones and good times. It tells a story of what people wore every day as time flew forward. It also tells what people overall liked in each era. Certain colors, for example, like apple red, are 1950s colors. I can hold an individual button in my hand, such as the plastic pony button that adorned my aunt's little girl dress many years ago, and I can imagine the dress, the event it was made for, my grandmother making the dress and my aunt wearing it. Each button in the box is a touchstone to the past.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PatM: That is lovely, the image of the pony button and imaging of how it was. My mother had a little cedar box filled with buttons that I think was her mothers. I loved to play with them as a child, so many colors and shapes--and thoughts of what they belonged to. Thanks for the memory!