Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tea Towels

Sidewalk, estate, and yard sales are peculiar things. If you have a knack for going to the right ones you can find yourself surrounded by all kinds of nifty little treasures, probably worth hundreds of dollars, being sold for mere pennies by ignorant but helpful owners eager to see them off, (much as you would be with your children on graduation day). I, unfortunately, don't have this sixth sense and instead often find myself in the midst of a whole lot of junk. However, this last weekend, I had the tables turned and instead found myself the host of one of these little sales.

I spent Thursday covered in small neon price stickers, sitting in the middle of a large trailer, surrounded by half-sorted boxes. I spent Friday hopping about in the sun, answering questions, and generally trying to be helpful. Saturday consisted of dark sunglasses, an umbrella, and Aloe Vera. My boyfriend called me his "little tomato". Lovely.

The sale was set up for my grandmother. She's gone and moved into my aunts' house and is now "downsizing" - as she calls it. Essentially she's getting rid of almost all of her possessions so she can live in one bedroom.

It's strange to see her be so cavalier with the things that my mother and I grew up around - not to mention how disconcerting it was to see it all being sold. So of course my mother and I went through everything and brought home a fair amount of what would have been lost. She took a sewing machine and I brought home tea towels. I know few people who still use tea towels (my mom included) but these ones belonged to my great aunt Bess (who I happen to be named after) and I couldn't bear to see them go. The whole thing tends to make you think about the fragility of the things that we cling to on a daily basis, with particular regard to our possessions. These are the things that are temporary - they do not come with us when we leave. Things like doilies, and cross-stitched quotes hold little sway when mixed in with a bunch of other more tempting items on teetering card tables, but to the people selling them they still mean home. It was me that had to iron the doilies and fix the framed quotes when someone shut the back door too hard. And as a result it's like seeing a part of my childhood leave in some terry-cloth bag with a stranger, like a lost puppy, picked up on the side of the road. I can't imagine how my grandmother felt - letting fifty years worth of fortune and misfortune be sold at one or two dollars a piece and while I know its for the best it's even harder to see the effect it has on my mom. On that hot blistery afternoon she looked over at me, just after a lady had finished paying for a green glass bowl.

"I wish I could take all of this home with me," she told me wistfully.
"We have quite a bit in the car, you know" I told her.
"I know," she said "but there's still a lot here I'd like to hold on to."
I looked over at her, not fully understanding.
"I mean," she continued "I understand that mom doesn't have enough space for any of this but these are all things I grew up around. To me that green bowl was our salad bowl for Sunday dinner and to someone else its nothing but a glass dish."

Its difficult to realize that time doesn't stand still as we sometimes perceive it to. Antique shops and aging cars in remote fields are our modern day evidence of times since past. At some point the china in the local antique store might have been a wedding present for a new couple, the car a since forgotten graduation surprise. All of these things, so anonymous and easily passed over, had a story and an owner - and now that green glass bowl, once a mark of tradition and propriety in my mothers household, is probably going to be used for something really depressing - like holding plastic fruit.

In some ways I suppose it has more to do with the fact that the people that these things belong to will not always be with us. My grandmother will die and my mother will too and at some point so will I and because our possessions can never really be a tribute to who we are our identities remain in the safekeeping of our loved ones that survive us. They are the living testament to our lives, they are the reason that we yearn to love and be loved. Our family and friends are the witnesses to our lives - and without them we might lose ourselves in the vast impersonal world in which we live. But even with this knowledge we cannot help our urge to find something physical to keep our buried with us if only to ease the fear that we might somehow forget them. Some of us have remembrance tattoo's, others have endless photo albums, and I have tea towels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your conclusion sentence its so cute and innocent yet serious and thoughtful.