Paul's Perambulations a personal blog

September 18, 2011

China (the place setting, not the place)

Filed under: General — admin @ 10:52 pm

We are currently downsizing, in preparation for a move to smaller quarters. This is the time to pass family heirlooms and collectibles to an appreciative younger generation ready to carry on the tradition of storing past treasures. Except – who wants it? The family china that has been used by generations of ancestors – is it practical? Is it in style?  The gleaming silver and the lace tablecloths once proudly displaced at large family gatherings.  Who wants to store it, to clean it, to mess with it? It may be that material from our own childhood is significant to us, but it is less likely to be significant to future generations unless it somehow formed a part of their own upbringing.  China —   butter dishes, finger bowls, plus ivory napkin rings,  silver candle snuffers,  and silver trays to receive calling cards.  Pictures of relatives long deceased, dated in some instances by Civil War uniforms. Pictures taken of dead babies, as a soulful memory image (eyes drawn in, open).

We can associate stories of grandparents with people we once knew, but beyond that, they are all unknowns, faceless except for images in fading photographs and tin plates. And even if we do imbibe their stories at our mother’s knee, is this necessarily good?  The heroic stories of past Sheldons, Ottos. Andres; or Fran’s relatives  — generations of Dudleys and Bradstreets at the founding of the Mass Bay Colony or signing the original incorporation papers of Harvard College (let along their responsibility for the whipping of the Quaker heretics).  Poets and Supreme Court Justice (Anne Bradstreet and O.W. Holmes Sr and Jr).  But what do you do with their furniture? Is there an obligation to the past? Should there be?

We find that antiques often sell for less than comparable new items that may not be as well made but are of a modern and practical design.  The old stuff did require some care, some maintenance, some love – and then it would last from generation to generation.  But generations later, what purpose does it serve? Often its former usefulness no longer fits the needs of current times. Old buggy whips, anyone?   I have one.

And finally, do we become victims of our “stuff”?  My iconic image is a picture I took of myself on a solo backpacking trip a few years ago, carrying all that I needed on my back. It is very freeing. Not only to reduce the amount of our old stuff, but also to balance this with not acquiring unnecessary new stuff or stuff that will just break and be trashed and replaced by other breakable stuff.  Perhaps this is basically a matter of discernment, of thoughtfulness. Take pictures of those things no longer filling a needed role (physical or emotional) and then move them on to some new home where they might be appreciated.

Some things do have meaning.  Perhaps not many. But do treasure those special few.

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