Things

There’s this teapot. Pale turquoise and old. It used to sit on a little table behind my grandmother’s chair. Whenever we visited Aunty, as we called her, it was a backdrop to her rocking and telling stories. When she was headed toward her end days she gave things away. She asked me what I wanted and I told her the teapot. Not because it was worth money but because when I see it, I see her there, in that chair.

So where is the teapot now? Safely kept in a high cupboard. My husband has a habit of breaking things. I’ve learned over the years that things actually mean nothing. They’re just objects. Their value comes from the stories and memories, which can’t be broken or lost. So I don’t get too attached to things anymore. And if there is something I’m attached to, it gets placed in an out-of-the-way spot. Of course I recognize the teapot has no value in that cupboard. I rarely remember I have it. Someday my son will wonder why I kept that old thing I never used.

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The delicate, almost translucent, tea cup on the right is even older, belonging to my great-grandfather. The pitcher was also Aunty’s and she always used it for orange juice. And thats granulated honey in the microwave.

Occasionally I come across this popular writer’s prompt: ‘what do you carry?’. Of course there are so many interpretations of this question, from the emotional burdens we carry, to our secrets, to our things and how they reflect on our life. What do you carry?

I spent most of July traveling in Scotland and Denmark. The first time I went to Scotland, in 1979, I had a small backpack that carried all I needed for six weeks. This time I had a large rolling bag to check in and a smaller bag for under the airline seat.

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Very old things, ivory and bone and amber, in Rosenborg Slot (castle) in Denmark, built in the 1600s.

I packed way too many things. Partly because I googled Scotland weather and read it was raining, rather than contacting friends to find out they were having record-breaking heat. The woman I traveled with packed even more, and then bought luggage to hold all the things she bought. She traveled with six pairs of shoes and four different jackets, all the same style, but different colors. I don’t even own six pairs of shoes.

In airports and train stations and buses, I saw the things we feel we need to carry. So much paraphernalia. So much stuff. Especially on the planes. I feared we would never get off the ground. It was rare to find someone traveling light, and typically when I did, it was a young person with a backpack.

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Things the Vikings carried 1200 years ago, now in the Viking museum in Aarhus, Denmark.

Why do we need so many things? Is it a sign of our culture, a sign of affluence? Would any of those things we feel the need to travel with help us if the plane crashed on a deserted island? Would six pairs of shoes keep you alive? Then why do we need them?

It’s not just traveling overseas that I see this. Every Friday when I leave work I see the same thing on the highway. People headed east for the weekend, hauling huge trailers, driving giant bus-like motor-homes that in turn tow boats and smaller cars, or more trailers. All of it full of the things they can’t go a weekend without.

Things make life easier but they also weigh us down, physically and emotionally. I came home from this trip promising myself I’m going to get rid of stuff.

Except the teapot.

13 thoughts on “Things

  1. When my parents died (within a month of each other), my sister and I had the task of cleaning out and selling their house. About every six weeks I’d fly to her home and we’d drive six hours to the state where my parents’ home was. We’d spend a long weekend sorting through things to donate or throw out and then get in the car and drive six hours to her house where I’d get on a plane for the return trip to my home. It was exhausting and it took us a year and a half to take care of the lifetime of accumulation of stuff before we could sell the house. I swore I wouldn’t leave my children with so much to do. However, as well meaning as I am, I’m afraid I haven’t quite succeeded. Every now and then I make an effort to go through things and toss stuff that I’m hanging on to for no good reason, but I know I’ve barely made a dent in my accumulation. I keep trying, though!

      • The garbage collection in the town where my parents lived will collect as much as you put out — that was really handy as each and every time we had huge piles of those giant black garbage bags of stuff. It was pretty amazing how much we threw out considering one would never have walked through their house and thought they had things to toss.

  2. Moving helps a lot with getting rid of things… lol
    But I am so fast at getting new things 😉
    And I am one of those that thinks, “I should keep that, I might use it down the road again…”

  3. I have felt the need to eliminate as well–it can be hard for me to let go, but things are so unimportant unless they give you lifelong (rather than temporary) joy. We recently experienced an unexpected death in the family and I’ve found myself worrying and wondering about her accumulated things. If no one wants them, they will be donated or thrown away. Will I take some/or be given some just for the emotional attachment? It’s a thought-provoking exercise to wonder about where and to whom one’s things will go after you’re gone…

    Scotland is a someday destination for my husband and I, his grandma still has family there. What compelled your visit and what cities do you love there?

    • I have friends in northern Scotland. That area, as well as the west coast around Ullapool, are stunning.
      It is hard when a loved one passes and you see their things going away forever. As I did with Aunty, I try to find a small token that reminds me of them. And I’ve started a document for my son where I list each object, describe it, and tell the story. That way some day he can decide if the story that moved me to keep an object is as important to him, or if he can decide to get rid of things. I thought it might help him to be informed when the time comes.

  4. I’ve got one of those husbands who break stuff, too. A son, also. What a beautiful teapot and reminder of your grandmother. I’m a collector and find it’s hard to part with the material memories even though I know they’re just “things”. I look forward to hearing of your journey and seeing more photos.

    • He even took a glass dish one time and put it in a cupboard to keep it safe for me, and then managed to drop something on it and break it anyway!

      • Ha ha… oh my! I’ve got one too.. not to one up you… I have a hand made sculpture of a dragon standing on a large egg that my dad gave me purchased from an art fair he had been exhibiting at. I had it displayed in my bedroom and unfortunately near the door on a dresser. My husband would always come in and disrobe and lay his clothes on the dresser. I would ask him not to get near the dragon… often. He was once feeling a mean streak and was obviously tired of hearing me ask him to watch my dragon so he took his shirt and began to swing it around in a teasing manner but totally joking. Yep. He knocked down my dragon and broke it. I glued it back together and still have it of course, but it now lives upstairs and very far away from it. Pfffft… men.

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