Hats and Thrift Stores

For the Fourth of July, we drove to the bay and took in the annual picnic fundraiser at the Governor (1903-1907) Pardee Home Museum where they garnish the event with live music and open the house for guided tours.  Folks dress in suggestions of period costume, overt combinations of RedWhite’n’Blue, or not. Straw hats abound…

We traveled with a couple new to the proceedings; indeed the wife is new to the United States so I stowed two summer hats for ladies in our weather gear bag, just in case.  It turned out that the extra (a hastily acquired replacement for one previously mislaid) matched the lady’s outfit perfectly.  Her husband crowed in delight as she tried it on; my closet was immediately decluttered of one hat, she looked lovely and would be well-protected from the afternoon sun.

During the drive we learned that the couple had spent the previous day shopping local thrift stores for home decor and essentials to adjust her new home to her own housekeeping style.  Lots of dust and dross and a few treasures.

For me, the high point of our annual excursion is the Home Tour.  The George Pardee family was full of collectors who “kept everything.” For now, the curators have it all gathered on side tables, in closets, on shelves, in glass-fronted cabinets.

My inner kid loves to stare at a cluster of carved miniatures, say, from all corners of the world: to admire the colors, imagine the craft of the toymakers, then fantasize a story for each item in turn.

Of course I want to examine every title in the library and every scrap of needlework in the place.  At the tour’s end, I determined to gobble my lunch and rejoin a later party.

I turned to my new friend to ask how she’d enjoyed the house tour.

“Just like the thrift stores,” she sniffed, and trotted off to ask permission to pluck lemons from a tree in the garden.

Saying Goodbye to my First Doll — Mother Got it Right

Snooky, my first and dearest doll, my companion from before I could remember, was made in the days before plastic evolved.  Her head was molded of hard rubber while her body and limbs were a thin rubber skin stuffed with cotton kapok.

By the time I was seven, my mother had bandaged, numerous worn places on her arms and body to contain the leaking stuffing. I understood that she had become fragile so by the time I started school I’d taken to leaving her in her doll bed most of the time.

Then one day the stuffing began to leak out where it couldn’t be patched, at the join of her soft body and her firmer head.

It was kind of that Santa Claus thing. My head had just begun to accept that Snooky was an inanimate toy. But my heart knew that she was my best and constant companion.

Mother and I had a gentle conversation during which I allowed that I understood that Snooky was beyond repair; I even understood that it was time for her to go. Mother offered me the option of participating in her disposal or of taking care of it herself while I was at school. She really let me choose.

My head and my heart conferred and agreed that she had to go but that it would be too awful to incinerate her myself. I asked mother to do it. And the next day I came home to find a brand new modern and very desirable Betsy-Wetsy wearing Snooky’s nightgown and resting there in Snooky’s bed.

I remember being sad, but also completely satisfied that mother’s and my contract had been honored. The new doll was one I had wanted. But although I played with it I never gave it a special name.

My mother got it right that time.

Releasing What Once Was Treasure

I think a lot about what turns stuff into treasure.

It seems rarely to be the thing itself that is valuable.

Rather it is the dreams we tie on to our stuff.

Through our stuff we hope to find fun, community, identity, position and power, self-reliance, and respect. We dream of using it to save the day for someone who will love us, solve the world’s problems, and make our own work easier. Through these beautiful dreams, value rubs into our things.

In our home in California, stored away in wardrobe boxes, stuffed into closets, crammed onto auxiliary racks, and packed into plastic bags were four decades worth of my husband’s first wife’s clothes. They spanned a continuum of sizes and some of the newest pieces still had their tags..

She was a tasteful dresser: a little formal with an eye for conservative professionalism appropriate to her vision of herself as a teacher. From the sizes and colors I immediately could tell she had been darker complected, and taller than I.

No woman can fail to understand how that collection had been amassed or the forces that led her to keep all of it. For one thing the initial investment had been substantial.

My husband kept it all intact partly because the sheer volume overwhelmed him. But more than that, he sensed the value the collection had held for his departed wife. He had an idea that his next wife, (and he knew he wanted to marry again), might benefit from, or even delight in this treasure trove.

Well. Here I was.

With one eye I saw an overwhelming jumble of another woman’s stuff. But through a more important eye I saw my husband’s openhearted desire to share with me a glittering horde.

He easily came to understand that I couldn’t use any of it. So together we released all of it to go and become a blessing to people who need it.

Space and Treasures

Last time I wrote about working with my husband to decide what to do with the spaces in our home. We have the luxury of enough space to suit our projects. Not all do…

Recently, a friend with pre-teen children told how she had cleared her living room to make way for a time-sensitive project. No sooner had she finished than her son gleefully dragged out his bin full of Legos. Within minutes this wealth of open workspace was filled with his projects-in-progress. You may imagine what ensued! (The Legos were impounded.)

When I was young, we kids received a gift craft set. It had wooden beads painted to be faces, bodies, arms and legs and instructions for assembling them into little figures using adroitly twisted pipe cleaners. I loved those little painted beads; in my imagination they became living characters and I couldn’t wait to bring them to life.

The detail was too picky for our child-sized fingers and although my father helped us finish making a few of the figures, my exuberant, bored, younger siblings soon littered the room with the colorful bits and pieces.

My mother, who could be impatient about gifts of children’s projects that required adult participation, regarded the mess and announced that if, on the morrow, she found ANY of this mess it would all be discarded.

She must have stepped on a bead because the next day I came home from school to find the set, even the finished figures, gone.

Although I knew that she’d warned us, I wailed so bitterly over the deaths of my inanimate friends that my mother softened. But it was too late. She did find one little figure she had missed in the sweep. For years that figure was a fixture on our Christmas trees.

But what took root in my heart was not the intended lesson of “Don’t Leave Your Stuff Lying Around Cluttering Up The Place.” Rather it reinforced my already skeptical views about sharing precious things. I learned to hide my treasures and became reluctant even to admit aloud that I had any.