At the beginning of the month, I posed these questions:
Possessions: What have you learned to live without this year? Have you acquired something(s) that has made your life better? Worse?
Over the past few years, unintentionally and without realizing it, I’ve become something of a minimalist. Not one of those morally superior, braggy types who profess to own only fifty items, including clothes and cooking utensils. Terrible! And nothing turns me off more than cold, stark modernism.
I’m not going to stop buying the occasional record or book, and I like things to feel cozy, which means that my home contains non-necessary items like pictures, lamps and several plants. But I’m not very sentimental about objects and I don’t want many of them. Owning lots of things weighs a person down.
I’ve mentioned that my parents are splitting up. Because this unfortunate event has coincided with my newfound proximity to them, I’ve acquired a bunch of their cast-offs. So far, they’ve made three 350-mile roundtrips to give me shit. The best thing, by far, has been my grandmother’s amazing 1926 player piano, which RZ has played every single day that we’ve had it. This has been an unqualified life improvement. It looks wonderful and sounds even better. We now have pretentious conversations regarding “tonal quality.” It’s great.
On the downside, the closet in my office, which had been blessedly empty, is now full of boxes of books from my youth and a bizarre collection of figurines that make me want to smash them every time I look at them. These include half a dozen miniature tea cups and saucers from Occupied Japan that may be worth hundreds, or even tens, of dollars. According to the Internet, only an expert can tell. There is also a hideous Delftsblauw statuette of a lady feeding some geese; ironic, because I love literally everything about the Netherlands except for its figurines. Again, this porcelain pile of poo could be worth a lot of money. Or not.
The question is: Do I care enough to find out? Or do I take them to the nearest vintage store and trade them in for a nightstand so my books and lamp are no longer sitting on the floor?
But these considerations obscure the most important point, which is: Why are these items in my home? Do my parents think that I am the kind of person who wants these things? If so, I feel as if aspects of our parent-child relationship went horribly awry at some point.
I may not want the long-lost books, but at least I understand why they thought that I might. I do, after all, really like books and reading. On the other hand, what does somebody who is nearly 32 (and childless) want with the Judy Blume oeuvre?
This question is not rhetorical and the answer is: a misguided excuse to procrastinate and relive the more pleasant aspects of one’s childhood. This, obviously, would be an enormous waste of time, as I’m still trying to get through Daniel Deronda, a masterpiece of English literature that I have not read eight times (or even once) before. Clearly I need to get rid of Are You There, God et al. And soon. (NB: Does anyone want a set of Judy Blume novels from the 1980s? Or Madeleine L’Engle, for that matter? Free, plus S&H.) But I may want to hang on to my Beverley Clearys, now that I live in Portland, as a matter of hometown pride.
But what am I saying? No I do not.
That’s the insidiousness of possessions. They breed necessity.
Take the electric can opener. This is a useful item if you have arthritis, cerebral palsy or paralysis. If you don’t have these issues, it’s the stupidest appliance on earth. Yet, it was one that I took for granted as a basic fact of kitchens until I went to college. At that point, I realized that a manual can opener takes up less space, is a lot easier to clean, can be used without electricity and actually does a better job of opening cans.
In the past year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that my life is better without other things that I had previously thought necessary: microwave, toaster, laundry basket, bureau.
Without a microwave, I must now boil water for my tea in a kettle. I must heat frozen veggie patties in the oven. Likewise with the toast. How awful. I traded a laundry basket for an actual in-home washer and dryer. Now, I put my dirty clothes straight into the washing machine. Oddly, I really appreciate not having a stinky basket of festering clothes in my bedroom. I admit that I may want to have a bureau at some point. For now, my closet and a few milk crates are doing just fine.
Christmas was yesterday. This gave my parents another opportunity to give us their old stuff. Surprisingly, it worked out okay. My dad gave RZ a 34-year-old bottle of 7 Up.
Not just any 34-year-old bottle of 7 Up.
No, this bottle — 16 ounces, unopened — commemorates the only time the Portland Trail Blazers have ever won the NBA Championship. That was before RZ (a huge Blazers fan) and I (a recovered Blazers fan) were even alive. Until three days ago, that bottle sat on the top shelf of the pantry for decades. It’s in mint condition. Now that is a thoughtful present, one worthy of the best gift-giver in the world.
For my part, I got another batch of my deceased grandmother’s (she of the player piano) jewelry. The first batch came two Christmases ago and comprised four gold necklaces, definitely more my style than this clutch of six pearl (or “pearl”) necklaces, which are lovely to look at, though I doubt I’ll ever be Ann Taylor enough to pull them off. There is also a tiny bracelet, one that doesn’t even begin to reach around my wrist. On one side, it has my grandmother’s name.
On the other side are my grandfather’s initials.
By the time I came along, they didn’t much like each other. This sweet tiny thing is a relic from a time when they did, very much so. I loved them both. I guess this is an object that I can’t help being sentimental about. Damn it.
The best thing we got this year is something that will keep giving for months, possibly years, to come. It is the gift of heat and light and fragrance: half a truckload of juniper wood, straight from the Central Oregon desert, to burn in our fireplace on the dark, grey Willamette Valley nights.
It’s not going to collect dust, we’ll never have to move it or worry about breaking it or losing it. After a while, it will be burned up. And in the meantime, it will make our lives so much warmer and brighter.
On the off-chance that you’re reading this, Mom and Dad, thank you.