Preserve or Enjoy? Thoughts on Physical Objects

time2The creamy white wool blanket I found in the Goodwill bargain bins last week is still airing out on the wash line. It takes a good while for the moth ball smell to fade.  Some dedicated person embroidered their initials on it, and trimmed the edges in blanket stitch, in red.  Every time I go to a thrift store I find hand-embroidered table linens, handkerchiefs, and table runners.  There is pain and beauty in that; beauty in the handiwork and pain in the likelihood that the one who stitched it has passed, their careful, skillful work donated by family who didn’t appreciate it.

There was fine Irish table linen; the tablecloth and eight napkins in fine brocade.  It still had the noble, ornate label on each piece.  It sat among the broken laundry baskets, hangers, shoes, and textbooks like a queen atop a trash heap.  It was over fifty years old, but never once used.  Always saved for the most special occasion?  An occasion that never came?  It reminded me of a character in a  book I read long ago, which I’ve failed to track down.  She lay dying in her bed, and went on and on about her best sheets and linens being in the bureau; that she’d never used them; that they were in some way markers of her worth and good repute.  That to die without fine linen that had never been used would be shameful.

We were given a piece of blue and white china by a great aunt.  She explained that it had always been in her corner cupboard, with the other pieces of the set, never used.  Her mother had kept them in the same way, in another corner cupboard on the farm, only taking them out for a dusting once a year.  Beautiful dishes that never once held food, nor served at a meal.  This was strange to me.

One Christmas I was gifted a collectible Holiday Barbie.  She was magnificent, in a white sparkling ballgown, her blonde hair cascading in perfect curls.  I had asked for her, so earnestly, and there she was!  I went to open the box and was told not to; it was explained that she wouldn’t be worth anything if I took her out and played with her; that she was an investment of sorts.  I stared through the shiny plastic window at a toy I’d never get to play with and was perfectly miserable.

It wasn’t too long until I secretly freed her from her packaging and triumphantly (albeit guiltily) played.  I promptly lost her shoes, her brush, and her hair bore signs of brushing and handling.  My parents felt like it was a loss, but I felt as though it was finally a gain.

Preserve or enjoy?  I tend towards enjoy, I tend towards giving things stories and life.  I favor the Velveteen rabbit’s snags and bare spots, a loved object is more beautiful to me than a perfect one.


5 thoughts on “Preserve or Enjoy? Thoughts on Physical Objects

  1. Oh, I have danced with this question over and over in my life. I recall an all-metal tractor we had for my brother when he was little that was big enough to ride and had pedals, like a bike. When he outgrew it, my parents put it in a yard sale and a collector tried to buy it. It was the first time I remember hearing the problem articulated – that the collector would preserve it but make it too expensive and important for another child to ride it, ever again.

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