Objects of Our Affection

silver fork

silver fork

When my grandmother died, I inherited her china and silver silverware. She had acquired them at her sister’s death, a sister many years her senior. The China wasn’t expensive. I expect it was accumulated like the wine glasses in the cabinet–out of boxes of laundry soap. But I never bothered to ask her where her sister had gotten the dishes. In part because I was a kid but also because when you’re 12, you’re not thinking that they might be yours in two years. But they are–along with an assortment of other odd kitchen tools that are interesting and some hand carved. Also a copy of Gray’s Anatomy from the 1950s, which belonged to my grandfather and before him my uncle–who used it in physio therapy school. Somehow it got left in the bookcase near my grandfather’s favorite chair, the one I always sat in when I was at their house. I’d thumb through the book, lingering over the pages on male anatomy.

I picked up Lisa Tracy’s book, “Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering my Family’s Past one Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a time” and enjoyed delving into Tracy’s family history by looking at the possessions they had left behind, many of which the youngest generation has found difficult to depart with. Tracy’s family was in the military–and I mean all the family and all the way back to the frontier fort days. So their belongings were gathered from around the globe and many acquired as tokens of appreciation for services rendered. They tell interesting stories and it is compelling to think that we can trace our lives through the objects we leave behind.

I’ve always thought that the books that people own say a lot about who they are. First, those folks who own no books: hmmm. They are definitely a suspect lot, especially if they own one of those massive TVs. Not my kind of people! What would you find it you looked at my bookshelves? A lot less today than if you’d looked 10 years ago. I’ve been seriously down-sizing since I moved into my current home. Only this week I’ve culled another 15 or so books to resale or donate. But still on my shelves are over 100 cookbooks, reference books, an assortment of history monographs, how-to books, art books, books on creativity, and gardening. And a host of children’s books–some from my own childhood and some that proved my children’s favorites.

Most of the rest of my belongings speak more to an absence of knick-knacks. I don’t like clutter so have little “stuff” around. But I do have a quilt my great-grandmother made and the baby blankets I swaddled my children in. I have a pile of old family photos, and of course my grandmother’s dishes. I wonder what my children will make of all these things when I’m gone?

One thought on “Objects of Our Affection

  1. Now you have me reminiscing! We have bits and pieces of family treasures, too, but most are tucked away in boxes — my MIL’s crystal, dozens of fancy cups and saucers, random silver pieces, oodles of unmarked, fading photos from my parents and grandparents, and books. I blogged a while back on my collection of old books (http://wp.me/phaYw-yr), nothing truly valuable or even precious in any way except I love having them.

    I think our attachment to such things reflects our need for roots… to feel grounded by these treasures that were loved by those who came before us. Our children know we have them. What they’ll choose to do with them after we’re gone I don’t know. But I expect they’ll keep a few things with the same nostalgia we have.

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