Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old Stuff. by Patresa Hartman

I am surrounded by old things -- antiques. Everything in my new writing room belonged to someone else first -- the bench in the corner was my great great Aunt's; the backless bench behind me sat in my grandmother's laundry room. The splintery wooden orange crates housing a lamp and books were uncovered in Mammaw & Pappaw's garage in Missouri; the kerosene lamp with the green shade, from their cabin in Minnesota. The piano, a 1960 Wurlitzer, I bought for $200 at a consignment shop in Parkersburg, Iowa; the owner and his two teenage sons dropped it in the snow twice while delivering it, and it held its tune.

A few months ago I found an old wall-hanging coat rack at an antique story in Des Moines' East Village -- Found Things. The owner, a gregarious woman with white hair and half moon reading glasses said they think it was part of the frame of an old school house doorway. The wood is thick and weathered. Someone nailed cast iron hooks across the top for coats. It's hanging on my wall now, my coat draped over a hook. I like it there. I wonder of its stories. Sometimes I think if I sit quietly enough it will whisper them to me.

I like old things. I like their stories. I want to know what energy of us they have absorbed -- our molecules seeping into the grains of their wooden planks. I want to know what songs were played on this piano before it came to live with me. Did children neglect to practice? Did pencils fall into the inner machinery and clank whenever someone played notes two octaves above middle C? There is a large, circular water damage spot on the top, and I want to know what plant leaked its nutrients and who got in trouble for it.

The orange crates -- who carried them first? Where have they been? How was the orange crop that year? I imagine tanned forearms and an occasional tattoo. I imagine these crates upside down on a dock, doubling as benches for men smoking cigarettes and laughing about...whatever men who carry orange crates laugh about.

Surrounding myself with old things piques my curiosity. As a writer, I want to squeeze wisdom from these tangible things. I want to know what they would have to say if they could. I am certain they are full.


Kathryn Magendie said...

That is one thing I envy - people who have family heirlooms like that. I do have my Maw Maw's lamp. But, all of our "family heirlooms" come from Roger's side of the family, so it's as if I don't have a past identity. Whatever is here is someone else's past - except for that lamp.

Kathryn Magendie said...

PS - there is one thing - Granny's quilt - Granny made my brother David a quilt that he never received - my mom gave it to me and it is my cherished item-I also have one of her little dresser top swans. Those will be the heirlooms I pass to my son one day...along with that lamp.

Barbara Quinn said...

Old things are fascinating! I have a lot of old and a lot of new and I like the way they blend together. I used to say my house was decorated in "early relative" style. Each piece does have its own story and I love poking around in antique shops.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I love love love old things. I've got a late 1800s or early 1900s wedding picture of the large size hanging in my living room. Got it at a country auction for less than $5, frame and all. Couldn't stand the thought of that couple being thrown away, with no relatives to claim them.

Thanks for the reminder to appreciate the old in all things. Nothing like the stories and histories they hold. Hope they whisper to you clearly so you can write and share it later!

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