03 December 2017

We wake to a cold grey day, a slushy snowfall, the smoke from the chimneys is drifting sideways and everything is silent. It could be a day for candle light and advent stuff but I am not so inclined. I wonder what will happen to that fat box in the basement with the trinkets and baubles and the beeswax candles in their fancy clip-on holders. 
It sits right next to the box with my mother's tea set and the one with my aunt's coffee set and the one with my grandmother's stemware and the engraved tumblers (my father's initials), the heavy crystal (you could knock someone out with the creamer), the silverware in red felt cutlery trays. Upstairs, there is the drawer stuffed with the thick table linens, matching and monogrammed napkins (my grandmother's initials).
Boxes and drawers of memories, dark rainy Sunday afternoons, waiting, willing the clock to move forward, may I leave the table. Denied. Just because. Be still, for once, oh do keep still for goodness sake.
I can count on one hand the times this stuff has been used (and duly washed, folded/repacked again) in my house.
Once, I tried to flog it but I am not the only one trying to cash in on dull childhood memories, it seems. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with gold edged bone china from the 1950s and incomplete sets of WMF silverware. 
One day. Out it will go. But for now, I hesitate and I don't know why.

It was easier with the books. The almost complete 18-something century edition of Goethe, every morsel he ever wrote except for that one missing volume, which according to family folklore, was appropriated by one of the GIs who occupied my grandparent's house for five years after the war. As a souvenir. I rather like the thought that he read it and forgot to put it back on the shelf. 
(Goethe is to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world.)
However, for the antique book trader (and I am not one) that one missing volume is a most dreadful thing to be burdened with rendering the remaining 74 or so bound volumes totally and utterly worthless. Think stamp collections.
I chucked the remaining ones out with great relish. 

I fell in love with Goethe once, in my final year at school. German literature class in the principal's office, Persian carpets, deep armchairs, just the five of us watching him pour tea and pass the delicate cups around, while we twiddled with our beads and bangles and braids (get it?). 
Whatever, we were cool.
For six months we went through Goethe's tragic play Faust with a fine comb. To some, Faust is simply the most important work of German literature, but I didn't care, all I needed was to top up my overall score. I steeled myself for nothing but boredom. But, oh, the sheer brilliance of it.  Especially when you are 17 years old. Every page was brimming with meaningful stuff that I needed to underline and reread and learn by heart:

"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."

"There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance. Strength is the lot of but a few privileged men; but austere perseverance, harsh and continuous, may be employed by the smallest of us and rarely fails of its purpose, for its silent power grows irresistibly greater with time."


"... all theory is grey but green the golden tree of life."

Anyway, I could go on. In the end, the required exam. I wrote my best ever essay and our principal was gushing with praise, announcing that it would be printed in the yearbook. Seriously, quite the achievement, especially since that year, the school was celebrating its 450th birthday with much pomp and celebrations. I played it cool and kept schtumm, waiting for the surprise to hit my family and the world at large.
Alas, as Goethe would say, it wasn't meant to be. An essay on Goethe's Faust was indeed published in the yearbook, only not mine. You see, it so happened that the father of one of my fellow literature class mates had made a large donation to the renovation funds and . . . you get the picture.

In the end, not just literature but an important lesson in social sciences (graft, lobbying, corruption, favourism etc.).

As Faust says at the beginning of the play:

"And here, poor fool I stand once more . . ."

In the afternoon, the sleet turned to rain, the temperature rose barely above freezing and I cycled for a bit along the river - like the poor fool I am. I dwelt on deep thoughts of the injustices of life as a whole and how difficult it all has become until I came across this cheerfull couple battling it upstream.

"Rejoice that you have still have a long time to live, before the thought comes to you that there is nothing more in the world to see."


Ms. Moon said...

Your writing...
The way you give us your thoughts as images is so beautiful.
Could you sell the unwanted memories on eBay, perhaps? Mostly what I have is pictures from my mother and I do not want them and my brothers don't either. This is a strange situation for me. What to do? Destroy them? Keep them and let my children decide? Do you ever wonder what it would feel like to cherish your family heirlooms? I do.
Those swans...well, they have comfy warm down coats on. They look so unconcerned, don't they?

Colette said...

It is so hard to know what to do with these things we all have that were once precious to people we loved. I have a huge box of my mother's things, including a purse filled with photographic negatives...absurd. I'm going to go throw those away right now!

37paddington said...

I have the same situation with my mother's things, the wedgewood china complete with bullion cups, the silver tea service, the crystal and silver and linens. All I really wanted were her stamps and photo albums and the one antique table that she told me in childhood would be mine. I have no space for that table in my house, and so it sits with the rest of her lovingly collected artifacts in storage in another country. We think sometimes that one day we will ship them to where I am, or where my brother is, or maybe one of her grandchildren will want them, but I suspect that one day, someone in that other place will help themselves to what's there. I hope they will love what they take, as she did.

JO said...

I am so lucky - I don't do stuff! Even my books - when I moved I had to prune the books, and my criteria - if I wasn't going to read it again or lend it to anyone, then it could go to the charity shops. My brothers, however, wanted the dinner services that have never been used, and cut glass vases - and my sisters-in-law have the discussions about 'what are we meant to do with all this?' Meanwhile, you have a restorative bike ride - much more important than stuff!

ellen abbott said...

yes, a china cabinet full of china and crystal that we have used few times and will most likely never use again. we do not entertain and the kids are grown and life is different for them than when I was growing up and women were expected to stay home. my daughter already has all the stuff neither I nor my siblings wanted from my mother. I do have three granddaughters though so I will just let the next two generations decide what to do with it all.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this. We were just having a family discussion with Roger's sister about a beautiful old armoire that was their grandfather's and how no one in the family wants it anymore. All the old china and silver, the vases and tablecloths, in boxes waiting to be discovered or discarded. It was a time of great accumulation, and soon it will be a time of letting go. You are such a wonderful writer, and I love reading your posts.

Nick said...

You're a brave lady. I find it easy to throw anything out - except books. I simply can't bring myself to do that (even if it were an incomplete set of something.

My life so far said...

"Rejoice that you have still have a long time to live, before the thought comes to you that there is nothing more in the world to see."

I don't agree with this. There is always something new in the world to see. Every spring is new. Every sunrise, every new baby's smile.

beth coyote said...

Well, the family silver was stolen. And my grandfather's ring. I gave the girls a bunch of jewelry and some of the silver ware so I've done my due diligence.

Books, well, there you go. I've got nothing valuable except to me. Shelves of poetry, dharma books, wilderness books, etc etc.

As I contemplate my own mortality I continue to cull and winnow and release.

Then there is the art....

Thank you for a beautiful bit of writing.


joared said...

Your thoughts seem to mirror the heaviness of the day’s weather. I agree with Lily, there is always something new to see. You’ve touched on issues of my own as I want/need to divest myself of select family possessions — so much meaning and memories for me that no longer elicit similar emotional value for the younger generations — such culture changes. And books ... I can hardly bear the thought of parting with them. The idea of separation creates a feeling that I’m giving away part of me. Intellectually I know this is not true, but.....I wonder if I take photos, as some suggest, if the process will be easier?