Tuesday, September 4, 2018

More than a Crock of Old Spoons

Autumn is arriving early this year, the faintest bit of apple in the air, and a sense of time passing every time we mow the yard. The skies in my area have been sullen gray for weeks due to the drifting smoke of the California fires, and have proven to be a subdued backdrop to the school buses that have bloomed everywhere like startling yellow mushrooms. I never rode a bus, and actually walked to school, from elementary to high school, something rarely done nowadays. And along with my 'Dick and Jane' readers, I carried this lunchbox. It is just starting to develop rust on the other side, but overall, it really shows that even as a little girl in knee socks, I did like to take care of my things.

It's another day, and yet again I stand at the sink, up to my elbows in dirty dishes. In fact, it seems that day and dishes are inextricably linked with each other. I don't mind, though.  Of all household tasks, I actually enjoy this more than most; it gives my mind a great opportunity to roam, and my hands keep time with my thoughts in the hot, lemon-scented water. Today, I continue to mull over this little crock of utensils on the counter, and it occurs to me that I received this complete set over 30 years ago. The metal utensils were a wedding gift from my marriage with my previous/late husband and the wooden spoons came from the Dollar Store, bought at a tough time when even some wooden spoons for a buck were a major purchase--and a treat--for me.  Even the whimsical little flower pot that holds them is nearly two decades old, and although I indeed remember who gave it to me, I sadly can't remember what kind of posies it once held.

I like antiques, but many of them I seem to make myself. Yes, I do have carefully selected treasures purchased from actual shops, like my vintage hat collection and some of my books that date back to the 1800s. But many more of my possessions wear the patina of age, simply because it has been a long-held belief of mine that there is great value in holding on to things if they are still serviceable or beautiful, and if they retain a major place in my heart.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm a pack-rat, or in modern terms, a 'hoarder'--not by any stretch of the imagination. Most of my adult years were spent re-locating to different parts of the country, and nothing, absolutely nothing can help in weeding out the unnecessary like having to box and haul.  Many of my items have been donated over the years, and seldom are they ever really missed. I savor the serenity of empty corners and meticulously ordered cupboards.  But I also do not seem to have that craving for newer, better, more. I do not automatically think that replacing equates improving. I am grateful for that blessing, and as such, I cherish what I do choose to keep.

I believe there is an energy to things that have been well used and well preserved. There is a comforting warmth to a wooden spoon that has been darkened and smoothed from years of clopping against mixing bowls of chocolate chip cookie dough. This spoon will feel different in the hand than even the shiniest new plastic one. Every time I pull out that cheese grater, I think of tacos and teen-age sons, and how many bricks of cheese I grated for them over the years in order to fill those growing bodies. The spatulas have tossed thousands of pancakes and folded over as many omelettes, as well as scraped off more than I'd like to count of burned grilled cheese or other assorted mishaps. And how many servings of chili or Campbell's tomato soup that ladle has dished out is anyone's guess.

I believe that much of the problem in our country today is that we have become a throw away society. Until the mid-twentieth century and the advent of the credit card, thrift used to be a primary value, as ingrained in our American consciousness as Detroit automobiles, Coca-Cola, and the Statue of Liberty. We were a nation of factories and manufacturing; we made things, but we were truly strong because we took care of things. We repaired things, mended them, polished them, made them last, and kept them organized. And this kind of attitude pervaded our families as well. I know that there will always be the argument that there were problems back then, too, and there most certainly were.  But overall, it is undeniable that this country was one where sacred marriages weren't trashed by divorce, homes were tidy and steadfast, friends and neighbors were in contact for decades, and children weren't disposed at a daycare.

 Our quest for the shiny new fad has in some ways blinded us to the fact that not everything new is better--in quality, in design, or even in materials. In fact, one could easily argue that many older objects have demonstrated their endurance simply by still being here, intact and useful. 

Above are two tea cups given to us by our adopted English 'grandmother'. The cups are authentic English bone china, but the reminder of this sweet lady's hug and smile far exceeds any antique show pedigree. And because they are so precious to us, they are not packed away in some dark cupboard, and they make regular appearances on the breakfast table, filled with piping hot green tea. Irreplaceable they may be, but precious things tenderly used remind us of the fragile blessing found in each single moment, and I am grateful for every sip.

As a homemaker, I am also a caretaker, taking care of the things that help to take care of us. It's a delicate balance.  I am surrounded by things that mean so much to me, because they have been loved and used and yes--shared, many of them laden with memory.  However, my home will not ever be a museum, a chilly place where objects are exalted over people. Even the most treasured things are still just things. They can never be more valuable than the loving, beating hearts around us. If something gets accidentally broken or stained, that's part of life, too, but at least it was enjoyed and well-used.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" were the bywords of Americans fighting their way through the dust and deprivation of the Great Depression, and indeed, that philosophy not only helped them survive, it strengthened them into victors during World War II, and the most prosperous country on Earth during the nifty 50s.  Wouldn't it be amazing if our society applied this perspective to our modern consumerist age, to our blizzard of credit card debt?

Just a thought.      


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