In the book I’m reading, The Hare with the Amber Eyes, there is a description of the collection of Netsuke it is all about falling into the hands of a family where the little ornaments are played with by children each night. They are taken from their mirror backed, glass vitrine (cupboard) and handed about, stories are told, games are played.
The book has been tugging on my memory and when I read this, suddenly I knew why. In my Nana’s house there used to be display cabinets like this, back in the days when she lived in a grand home they moved to around retirement age. The house was filled with dark wood, fifties furniture, high polished with complex brass fastenings and old, Victorian style key plates and locks. Everywhere I turned in that house there was grand furniture, polished and kept good by a house proud woman; every surface was tended and filled with ornaments, pretties, things my Nana liked and made her feel she had arrived and could spend money, albeit thriftily (she loves a bargain) on frivolity. In one case there were in fact ivory carvings, like the Netsuke, but a Buddha, not a hare.
I spent a lot of time in that house and I played with all the things she loved, knew them intimately; the blue tit on a branch, just like the one in the head’s study at school, the Dresden shepherdess, the brooches and pins and necklaces she repaired and sold. Her house is filled with china and al the things that wouldn’t last five minutes in this house. My favourite was, still is, the bone china flower collection, on a special set of tiny shelves, just like the one above. I loved the, love them still. I value them as part of her. I can’t imagine my girls would value them at all though because to me they are Nana. To my girls, they are just flowers.
At her house, I grew up with a box full of dolls clothes she and my aunt had made; I had my own cupboard and every time I visited, I could take out my precious things, my special bits and bobs. I don’t think any other grandchild had the same there but it mattered to me to have my own space, my things, my place that no one touched or devalued. I would play for hours with toys infused with family history; a Tressie doll, an orange knitted two piece dolls skirt and jacket. Those two things have made it to the dolls box in this house. Incredible really. Three generations. Who knew it would be those things?
At home, the most precious toy was the garden set that belonged to my mum. She saved up for it piece by piece when she was a child and the ice cream tub it lives in came out only when we were poorly, or sad, or our most lonely. I built rose beds and tulip fields, the greenhouse never stayed together, the trees had a particular and peculiar smell, made of a foamy plastic that is probably illegal now. It was a treasure toy, a toy to make you feel better. And I had my own special collections; a box of things I loved for my games, my pony toys, my books, knick knacks in a jewellery box, sentimental doodads. I have most of it still; strangely, I seem to have lost some of the things I should have kept closest – a family signet ring is gone, the wire ring I bought on a school trip to France is safe.
I adore my Nana, love that she gave me a joy in things worth caring for. It seems to have ebbed from me though – I am no good at house proud or pretty, or well kept or stately. My house is a confusion of stuff, not things, stuff that is jammed in, piled up, thrown together, pushed into places. And my girls have no sense of care at all really. I don’t know if it is the throw away age we live in, or my failing. I wouldn’t entrust Granny’s garden set to them though… heavens, my 8 Strawberry Shortcake dolls are scattered to the winds.
I don’t know what ‘things’ they’ll hold on to to remind them of me? I worry, already and forever, what will become of Freddie’s keepsake box when I am gone. Max will throw it away and I won’t mind, because I’ll be dead, but I mind knowing it will happen. I wonder who will keep his blanket, who will keep my favourite books? What legacy of stuff do I leave? What do I hold so precious they’ll want it to remember me, the way I know I’ll hold out my arms for the flowers and hope to keep them?
It doesn’t matter, of course. I’ve cleared out a home after a death and it is a strange and sad thing to take apart a life but in the end the stuff is stuff and two years down the line it becomes clutter, even if to start with it seemed wrong to throw it away. The side of my family with things that provoke memories to me are fractured and shattered away from me, I might not be entitled to the memories any more, never mind the things but somehow, I like to think of all those bits and pieces, threaded with memory and the impression of the moments in time. It seems odd that one day it will all just be lost.
Are there things from your past, items or collections of toys or ornaments or books that provoke a sense of memory or ownership or connection in you? What would you wish for? What do you think people might keep to remember you by? What might help you to hold on to a person you love after they die?