Our Favorite Things Have Stories to Tell.

braceletThis past week I’ve been reminded how much our treasured possessions are a window into the stories of our life. My frail, ninety-one year old mother has  started to go through her modest collection of jewelry. She’s carefully trying to match each piece with a relative or friend she thinks would appreciate having it after she has died.   As I was sitting with her, she began telling me the stories behind each piece. There are the art deco black-and-white earrings she bought to go with a very fashionable dress my father got her shortly after they were married. A silver bracelet brought back by my dad from Pakistan during WWII is tarnished but her memories of my dad’s war experiences remain vivid. Each piece unlocks a story in my mother’s life.

And then there was a colleague at Victoria Hospice who told me of a unique funeral celebration he attended. A friend of the deceased gave a eulogy that was built entirely around photos of the  shoes in the woman’s life. Each pair of shoes had a story to tell.

In The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday, I read an essay entitled Family Ties. It tells the story of a son’s remembrance of his father through the neckties that were passed down to him. Here’s an excerpt:

The other day I was getting ready for work and went into my closet to get a tie…I reached for a brown-, blue- and white-striped tie and I remembered that it was one of my father’s. He died last year and shortly afterward my mother, who was almost 80, made the decision to sell the big house we all grew up in. It took her a while, but she finally tackled the job of cleaning out my father’s closets… My father had a lot of ties – dozens and dozens and dozens of them…. And so, on this morning, I found myself knotting my father’s tie, remembering how we stood in front of the mirror years ago, him teaching me how to get a half-Windsor just right. I smiled, knowing I might be the only person in the building that day with a tie on.

Another interesting use of objects to tell a story appeared on the NPR website. Entitled A Catalog — Literally — Of Broken Dreams, it reviews the book Important Artifacts by New York Times op-ed page art director Leanne Shapton.  The NPR article points out:

Foregoing narrative entirely, Shapton tells the story of a couple’s relationship in the form of a staggeringly precise ersatz auction catalog that annotates the common detritus of a love affair — notes, CD mixes, e-mails, photos, books— and places the objects up for sale…. In choosing the conceit of an auction catalog, Shapton reminds us that the story of love can be told through the things we leave behind, but also by the condition in which we leave them.

All of this got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a memoir or life story built around the special things someone possesses?  Something to keep in mind. Have you already done something like this? Love to hear from you if you have.

Photo by Kylie

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6 Responses to Our Favorite Things Have Stories to Tell.

  1. I love the idea of objects as icons, talismans, carrier of all sorts of stories. Jeannette Barron did a lovely book centered around her mother’s clothes: http://www.amazon.com/Mothers-Clothes-Jeannette-Montgomery-Barron/dp/1599620774

  2. Dan, several years ago I met Jack, to interview him about his life stories. His wife brought in a battered cardboard box full of old cricket balls and said “Don’t forget to ask him about these.” I picked up one of the old red leather balls and he started talking about the ball, with which he had won the South Australian Under 15′s state championships in 1935.
    We went through the box, numbering each ball, before setting them out in chronological order before commencing the interview. He held each ball in his old gnarled hand and the stories and memories just tumbled out! They had a display cabinet built to contain the numbered balls and Jack’s stories are nearby for interested people to read.

  3. That’s what I mean about talismans, how the object itself has a certain power. There’s a lot to love about the digital world, but I don’t think it will ever elicit the kind of response Annie is talking about.

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