Saturday, December 5, 2009

The story of stuff

I recently started helping my mother go through some of my late fathers belongings. It's a slow process, because it is a lifetime of acquisition we are sifting through.

There are some people that approach the belongings left after the death of a relative with a roll of garbage bags and a truck for the furniture ... and I can understand that. There is something cathartic about cleaning away old clothes and keeping only a few precious items for remembrance.

I've been discovering however, that real value can be in the smallest things, often seemingly inconsequential objects. Each week, my mother and I select a drawer or a cupboard and sort through it. In a dresser this week, we found a plastic jar full of coins and badges, paperclips and an odd assortment of other small items.

I was about to disregard much of it, when my mother took up a cuff link, and reminded me of the time years ago when Dad had made them. We were approaching Christmas with very little to spend on friends and family, and so my Dad bought a piece of copper the size of a dinner plate from a friend. He cut the copper, and made a dozen pairs of cuff links to give as presents.

Cuff links, a coat, a pair of shoes a coffee mug, there are so many objects in our lives we invest with stories. Sometimes it is because the object represents a moment in time, a bookmark for that place in our lives, when or why it was given.

Monetary value has no bearing on the weight of the story contained in an object. We hand down items of all shapes and sizes through our families and in our communities that represent stories.

Sporting cups with a list of names long forgotten still resonate for us, their layers of stories may only be remembered by a few, but we all feel the weight of collective memories in these objects.

A family bible, regardless of our own attachments and connections, have an inherited value because of the reverence with which they are often treated and kept. They are totoms representing the stories of our family, community and culture.

Flags are another, weighted heavily with story and significance, they may carry a smaller story of ownership but they will always reflect a vast store of community values and memory.

My Dad collected, he loved garage sales and markets, loved fixing the objects he found and I think, loved the stories that came with them. He loved people and the stories they told, and this was perhaps a large part of his motivation for collecting things of often not immediately apparent value. Much to the horror of my Mother I might add.

Dad always asked about the objects he bought, wanted their stories, needed to understand their value for the people he bought them from. It was one of the reasons he loved making things with his hands ... he then had a story to hold within him and to tell others. A story about time spent, and the care he had taken, and perhaps, the value it could represent for others.

Some items we have uncovered in my fathers large collection of things only had value to him, and held stories we have forgotten or that he never told us ... some of them include:

A Braille clock
A delicately constructed aeroplane made from whisper thin balsa wood
A collection of beautiful wooden handles - for what sort of tool, we have no idea
An old solitaire board, lovingly restored
A Danish made pistol less than an inch long, with a tiny container full of bullets and a ram rod