Monday, November 26, 2012

Things and Stuff

Our first Christmas together. The more things change...
I've accumulated a lot of Things in my 37.8 years on this watery orb. Much like a certain redheaded mermaid, I've got whozits and whatzits galore. Few of them hold any real meaning, and even then, it's probably truest to say that only a few of them trigger real feelings or memories. This knowledge won't stop me from pulling the trigger on the next adorable, kitschy owl-themed trinket that catches my eye, but at this time of the year when the ray gun is stuck on ACQUIRE in so many ways, I'd like to reflect on a few material objects that bring me joy on a regular basis. They aren't the most valuable things I own -- that honor would go to my collection of human hair and teeth, otherwise known as my baby books.* Style-wise, these objects are probably the antithesis of modern elegance, but I've always been a big fan of the misfit toy.

For instance, this mug:

I got this from my mom for my 10th birthday, which means my Sarah Mug would be well into its first career as a lion trainer if it had been born to lion training parents instead of winding up in that kiln in Korea. My mug could drink a beer with me. My mug has had a beer with me, actually. My mug has held hot chocolate with big, sticky marshmallows on a cold snow day in 1987. My mug has forced me to smile after reading its cheerful, cheesy poem at 5:12 a.m. while I bounced a colicky newborn on my knee and wondered if it were possible to be more sleep-deprived but technically conscious (it were). Recently, I let my once-colicky, now 6-year-old not-really-a-baby drink grape Powerade from it when he was sick.

Somehow, though I have moved 15+ times since receiving it, I've managed to keep track of this thing and not even crack it. And yes, it's special because it was a gift from my mommy when I was 10, and because they spelled Sarah with an "h," but it's also special just because it has been there as part of the background for so long. 

This squirrel basket:

My Grandma Bricker kept her candy in here. When I was very young and my Poppy Bricker was still alive, he would always bury a chocolate underneath all the Brach's Butterscotch and tell me they didn't have any. So of course I'd dig around in here, and lo and behold, there it was. Now that I'm older, that memory holds increasing weight. I know the overwhelming feeling of making a little kid beam with joy over a simple thing. I'd rather have this silly squirrel basket than any "real" family heirloom.

This tiny red lantern:

At my other grandparents' house, there is this little shelf in the spare bedroom where I'd always sleep when I visited, and on this little shelf are all these tiny trinkets, some of them gifts from me and my brothers when we were very small. My grandma still has an ugly little rock there that I gave her when she was in the hospital at one point long ago, and one of those weird little naked babies that fit in dollhouse cribs. I gave that to her at some point, too. I'm not sure of the origin of this little lantern, but it was there as long as I can remember, so at least 33ish years. I was at their house not too long ago, and we were reminiscing about days long gone, as we often do, and which invariably winds up focused on some childhood antics performed by me and my little brothers. I said something about the little shelf in there, and my Poppy, who is in his 80s, sick, and not always too coherent these days, said that reminded him of something. He'd told me when I was SIX that I could have that little lantern some day. So I took it home, and here it is. Love.

There are some other Things that bring on the Stuff around here, too, like the first gift Kurt gave me (a stuffed weasel) and the $2 sterling silver rings we got together in Chinatown in Chicago almost 13 years ago. A tiny hat that kept my first baby's little pumpkin head warm when he was born. Lots of pictures. My later-in-life college diploma. Monk and Roger, the stuffed animals I carried around when I was 5. My Grandma Bricker blanket. A silver perfume bottle from one of my oldest friends. A little clay vase from Barcelona. A mother's day card where the only word spelled correctly is love. 

I don't need these things to reminisce, and I'd imagine I'll hold on to less and less of them as time goes along. But they are a good reminder that when it comes to gifts and the things that endure, it's the thought that counts. I know it's hokey. But just like that prissy mermaid, there's little more important to me than being a part of the larger world, whether it's family, friends or community. I think that's probably true for almost every single person on Earth, too, no matter our differences or status. People do better when they have other people in their lives, even in the worst situations. Beloved objects conjure up memories of those people.

I hope I don't sound all sanctimonious here. I'm not above snatching up that Cyber Monday deal on a DVD I'd like to acquire or anything. I'm just making the case for the little things at this frenzied time of year, especially after this particularly painful election cycle has finally, thankfully, ground to a halt. We can't predict which little things others will imbue with their own personal meaning, or even if it's our intangible gifts that will mean the most. But it's a sure bet that all that guilt associated with the gift-giving season is a wasted emotion.

Now, tell me about your favorite nostalgia-inducing objects. I'd love to hear about them.

*Why is not creepy to collect your child's hair and first lost teeth in a book, but as soon as you start storing these items in shoe boxes in a dusty cellar, you're getting profiled as a potential serial killer?


Jen said...

I meant to comment on this when you posted it, but my brain was not working properly and I decided to come back to it later. Much later, apparently.

When I was eleven, my parents gave me this porcelain tchotchke that played "Talk to the Animals" when you twisted the bottom. It had bunny figures in the grass by a garden wall. They'd found it at a yard sale. It was absolutely not something I would ever, ever pick out myself.

It was also the last non-Christmas or birthday item that my parents gave me together before the split up. I never really wanted my parents to get back together because even at my young age, I knew they were better apart. But I kept it (and played it every time I happened to come across it) until a few years ago. Long after one of the bunnies broke off in a move, long after both of them remarried, I could not bear to get rid of that damned thing.

I hate clutter and I don't put a lot of sentimentality into things, but I definitely think that some stuff is so deeply attached to a memory or a feeling or a sense that it's worth holding on to.

Anonymous said...

My name is Sarah and I had the Sarah mug. I got mine when I was 8 years old for Christmas one year. I propped it up proudly with the rest of my Christmas gifts and took a picture of it with my new pink camera.

My sister met her best friend Sarah when she was about 8 and they were inseparable. She was like a sister to me--I was so protective of her and loved her dearly. When we grew into adulthood we developed our own friendship that had recently begun to deepen even more when she shared the troubles she was having with her husband.

A year ago this month she died. She was shot and killed by her husband in a shocking and incomprehensible act of domestic violence. Our hearts are still trying to mend from this tragedy.

We shared a bond because we were both named Sarah. We both knew it meant princess, though she liked to be more specific and say it meant God's princess.

Her mother asked her closest friends if they would like to leave a token in her casket. I took that white mug with pink lettering, that gently cracked, red wine stained mug. That mug that got me through all-night study sessions, and greeted me with orange juiced mornings. That mug that had a piece of my personal history written on it. I left it in that funeral home with her mother. Those pieces of me, those memories of her, are still a part of me as I carry on in life. I miss that mug, but not as much as I miss her. I'd sell all of my precious belongings to have her back, but life continues as it should.

One day, I hope to be wandering through a delightfully cluttered garage sale or overly stuffed vintage boutique and come upon a mug like the one I used to have. Perhaps by then the pain won't be as raw, but I know I am changed forever.

Sarah Hunt said...

Fellow Sarah - thank you so much for sharing your story here. I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost a friend in a similar way in 2006 when her mother shot her in the midst of a mental crisis. We weren't as close as you were with your Sarah, but I loved her and the circumstances surrounding her death have yet to become less than jarring when I think about her. It's a terrible feeling. I hope you will seek out comfort where you can find it, and allow yourself to heal. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to comment here. It's amazing how the small, tangible things can really represent an era, frozen in time. The mug seems like the perfect item to honor your friend. Peace and love to you and yours.

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