Monday, 14 June 2010

At weekends the pace of life slows somewhat – not that my life is as busy as in the days when the family was young, and I worked, but, as they say, work expands to fill the time (and energy) available. Dr P was about to run out of one of his medicines, and instead of telling me this on Saturday, he waited until Sunday, when our chemist is closed, and because of today's public holiday, I had to go further afield. My little expedition included a gentle stroll to the local shops, the St Vincent de Paul shop and the second-hand market.

Vinnies has lots of cheap books, and is worth visiting regularly. It is mostly very popular fiction, but it is surprising what is to be found – sometimes quite old books turn up, there is a scattering of biographies, some old travel books, and this and that. I picked up an Anne Tyler book, and went on to the market, where there are lots of stalls with books. Two more books leapt into my hands, one a Spanish grammar, just in case I manage to do a bit of study before going away later this year (fingers crossed and all going well)  and the other, found while browsing through the offerings of one of the larger stalls, on  LM Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables books. It is lovely. As I paid for it I talked to the stall-holder, who has a bookshop in another suburb, about children’s books, reading, and the delights of finding books for children. Such casual, and almost accidental conversations add such joy and interest to life. All of a sudden things of common interest are discovered, and there is a meeting of minds.

The market is always very crowded, and since the completion of a new playground at the school, all the little kids have lots of fun on the equipment. 

Looking at the array of goods on sale at the market made me think of our lives, the passage of time, and of our mortality. Where did all these goods come from? There are old clothes, shoes, toys, books, old and new jewellery, china, silver and glassware, ornaments, rugs, cloths and embroidered doileys, new socks, old furniture, mirrors, Indian jewellery and very smelly incense, wools, cotton and buttons, old magazines, prints, photos and posters, plants and flowers, and food. There was an old National Geographic, from 1935, which featured Italy and its then colonial possession Eritrea. Where has this magazine been all these years? How did it come to be on sale? Did anyone buy it?

Does all this stuff come from regular house-cleaning and tidying, moving house, from the elderly having to move into aged care accommodation, or from the distribution of possessions of those who have died? How many objects come from what is left over from bequests and inheritance, categorised as stuff nobody (in their rights minds) would want. But you can’t just throw it all away, you can hear people think, someone might want or need it.

Then my mind turns to what will happen to all my things when I die. Will my children want any or all of them? Would they have room for them? There has been a bit of sighing and rolling of eyes when I have mentioned this subject in the past. There ensue careful explanations of how tastes change (ie, would not want any of this lot)  or laughing rebukes about not being so pathetic, Mum. 

Yet I want my family to have my things, partly because there are many lovely things, and partly, I suppose, because of the fear of the extinction not only of my mind and body, but also of the memory of me. I want  my descendants to handle things which were mine, and for them to bring me to their memories. Those few things I own which came to me from my parents or grandparents are precious to me on that account. My father’s tub chair, which I have had repaired and re-covered. My grandmother’s locket. Pearls which were my mother’s. The tablecloth my grandmother crocheted for me as a wedding present. A few embroidered pieces of linen. Books which were owned by my father. A standard lamp. And there are also a table and a sideboard which I bought from my inheritance.

Of course, if no one likes any of these things, they can be sold, or given away, and I will never know. What you don't know does not hurt you, so they say, although many of us have real difficulty believing this adage. It is hard not to imagine our spirits keeping an eye on what goes on in the land of the living, and thus being distracted from heavenly bliss, purgatory or whatever. Surely there is some shrieking from above not to get rid of this or that precious object. As well as helpful advice and comfort.

In the meantime I am doing some cleaning out of Dr P's study. (He has the power of veto.) All his old family photos (ie pre-me) have now been gathered together and put into a plastic box, so that at any time he and his children can have a look. My own photos are mostly in albums, and today I rediscovered photos from my childhood. My older sister and I had given each other copies of whatever we had - I am so glad that we did this. It was a bitter-sweet experience to see them again today.

This week I watched a programme about a National Trust historic house in the UK – Calke Abbey. It is preserved as a rather decrepit property, because nothing in this house was ever mended, repaired, or thrown away. The house is absolutely full of things. You wonder how they lived. It is preserved now because it is part of the history of the family and of the nation. The National Trust has not followed its usual policy of  repairing, as Calke Abbey does not fit the usual pattern of grand historic houses, dripping with wealth, luxury and self-indulgence. For example, a statue of a dog had a damaged leg, and was propped up on a matchbox. The matchbox was thrown away, and an identical matchbox had to be found and put in situ. You cannot be too accurate!

As a person who is passionate about the study of history, I want to keep learning as much as possible, and I want future generations to know the past, ours and that of other peoples, to know how we lived, what we thought, what happened in our times, to know our problems, our faults and virtues. To preserve our humanity. To preserve knowledge, and understanding.


Anonymous said...

My mother and her siblings have for a long time been calling dibs on their parents' possessions. At one point coloured stickets were involved. It's shameless behaviour, but somewhat encouraged by my grandparents who, like you, want to know that their belongings will be loved. For myself, I've claimed my grandmother's childhood book collection, which includes nearly every L. M. Montgomery book.

I often wonder what our world might look like a hundred or even a thousand years from now. What will survive? So little seems to remain from the past. If there's one thing I've learned from my studies, it's how much can be lost with the passing of the years. But with the advent of industry and the rise of personal wealth, we all seem to own so much more than our medieval counterparts. If our goods survive, where will they go? How will they be used?

Stomper Girl said...

I only roll my eyes when you get all worried about whether we'll listen to your CD collection. Of course we will look at your things and think of you, just as I do when I look at nice things you gave me like my teapot.

persiflage said...

It would not do ANYONE any harm to listen to my CDs.

Pam said...

Ah yes, things. I'm very fond of things myself. It's funny how they survive us. Even a plastic bottle that we throw away will last a hundred - a thousand? - years, while we...

No, in answer to your comment, only the girls and I are vegetarian. Husband and son are carnivores.

Meggie said...

We used to joke about who would get what, when my mother was alive. Of course, when she actually died, we were so shocked, we wanted to keep everything. Impossible of course, but there are some things I wish I had kept, & didn't. I have told my children not to worry about any of my things they part with. I am sure they will keep the real treasures, & I have tried to tell them the related stories, which go with several items. One being my Great Grandfather's locket.