I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs this year. I think the significance of that is a separate post in its own right, and one that I intend to write about sometime soon. Suffice it to say, it comes down to two things (I think): my introversion and a present sense of loneliness when it comes to friendships.
Anyway, in one of those memoirs, Dancing Fish and Ammonites, by Penelope Lively, I was intrigued by the last chapter, “Six Things”, where Lively essentially describes the significance of six material things in her life. She prefaces the chapter with this:
My house has many things, too, besides those books—the accretions of a lifetime. Not many of them are valuable; some of them are eloquent. People’s possessions speak of them: they are resonant and betraying and reflective.
. . . I have picked out six of the things that articulate something of who I am. . . . [A]t this late point in life, I have seen these objects in the house imbued with new significance — I have seen how they reflect interests, and concerns, how they chart where I’ve been, and how I’ve been.
She goes on to describe the story of each item and dubs it a “material memoir” of sorts. I loved that notion, and ever since reading it months ago, it has been on my mind.
What would I choose as my six things?
Right away I imposed upon myself the rule that neither books nor photos (or devices that hold photos) would count. Those are a given, I think, for many of us. Maybe I’ll even do a separate entry about that one day; that is, which six books I couldn’t live without.
So, what’s left? This was harder than I thought it’d be, not because there were too many things, but because I was struck at how few I came up with. The process revealed that I do not have much in the way of material possessions that I feel deeply connected to on some level. Perhaps that is a good thing.
The process also revealed that there is much about the house that I don’t feel is truly mine. I don’t really have much in the way of material things that I carried forward from childhood or even my college/early adult years. Moreover, so much of the things in our home are shared, if not utilitarian. That was an interesting and unexpected realization.
Given the relative age difference between Lively and me—she’s 81 and I am 40—I wonder if that is part of it too. Perhaps I have not really begun that life phase of acquiring meaningful things. Maybe I never will. Or maybe the significance of things already in my midst have not had the full measure of time to reveal themselves yet.
But, eventually, some of my possessions did trickle forward, though perhaps with a sort of latent value that required me to really think about them first. I’m still thinking about the significance between items that I acquired myself versus those that were given to me, items that were objects found in nature versus those that were paid for with money. I think those differences speak volumes, and I will continue to ponder that a while longer. For now, though, here are my six things.
1. The diamond earrings from E. My husband, E, and I have been together for twenty years this summer (though married only since 2002). In 1997, after a few years of dating, he gave me a pair of diamond earrings for Christmas. They are humble and flawed (if you look closely), and were purchased with far more love than money. After all, he was still in graduate student budget mode at the time. Could we afford to upgrade this pair now? Yes. But the thing is, I don’t want to. Bigger, flawless diamonds are not who I am. I like to hold these earrings and know the backstory of how they came to be, and how they still, after all this time, matter just as much to me now. Notably, they are one of the few things I specifically bequeath to my daughter in my will.
2. Driftwood and rocks from Lake Champlain in Shelburne, VT. I’ve posted before about the significance of Shelburne, VT to my husband and me. When we go, I pick up these lovely pieces of driftwood that collect along the shore of Lake Champlain just steps from the cottage we rent at Shelburne Farms.
They have a distinct sound when you walk on them or toss one on the ground. I love their weathered grey color, smoothness, and sometimes erratic shapes. I carefully nestle a few each year in my suitcase, and they’ve taken up residence around the living room. And the rocks. Oh, the rocks. These smooth stones of black shale, veined with quartz are, in a word, mesmerizing. I could (and often do) spend hours poking through them along the shore. Inevitably, I pick a few to take home. These stones and sticks, I see them every day and am reminded of that special place, a place that I hope one day will be a more permanent fixture in my life.
3. Shells collected at various beaches. In my living room sits a jar of shells that we’ve collected as a family (and even a few since before M was born almost seven years ago). They hail from beaches domestic and afar. Other than the Atlantic Surf Clams, I probably cannot even tell you what beaches we were on when we found those treasures. But no matter. It’s what they represent and remind me of: long stretches of time together to walk—uninterrupted and unhurried—along the shore, just to take in the salty breezes and hear the cries from the gulls overhead. Those walks where the water lapped at our feet, us wondering whether the next wave would deliver a new treasure just for us to see. Each shell is plucked as being so very important, and it is, at least in that moment. That importance fades over time, it seems. Collectively, though, seeing these shells accumulate from year to year (and particularly in the middle of winter), I am reminded that summer will always come again, as will vacations and time to let our guard down together.
4. My camera. I really don’t know where I would be without my camera. I’ve had many over the years, and each one has been so supremely significant to me while in my possession. I’ve long since given away my first 35mm (film!) camera, and the few digital SLRs I owned after that, but I will always remember each one as special. The camera I have now is no different, other than the fact that it was also the one thing I allowed myself to buy right before leaving my job at the law firm three years ago. By leaving that job, I was walking away from a more viable income source than what I’ve cobbled together for myself by writing and working as a VERY part-time attorney. It was my last significant purchase with money I earned completely on my own. For any woman who has ratcheted down her career in the name of her children, you know exactly what I might be feeling when I note that. It’s not bothersome to me, but it’s a significance that is tied to this particular camera, and it’s not lost on me.
5. My bunny coffee mug. This little guy only came into my possession a few years ago, but for some reason I am profoundly attached to it. I bought it at a craft fair and it was made by a local potter. Strange that it took so many years to find the “right” mug–the handle, the weight, the size . . . all of it. Just perfect. I think what also gives it significance is that on some level it solidifies that I am a bona fide adult, one who needs coffee on a daily basis just to keep up with life, and there’s no turning my back on that fact anymore. Nothing else makes me feel quite like an adult as does my mug.
6. The necklace that hangs around my neck. I bought it out of a catalog some years ago, so it’s not something profoundly unique. On one side has a tree (affirming my affinity for trees), and the other side simply says this:
By now I’ve almost developed a sort of superstitious relationship with it. I am afraid to take it off for fear of something bad happening. Perhaps this is a talisman of my anxiety if nothing else. I do, on occasion, take it off in order to wear something fancy if the event (or my mood) requires, but it’s rare. I feel naked without it.
Remember what is important to you. Words that I need to literally wear around my neck in order to remember it, every single day.
What’s important to you? What are your “six things”?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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