My grandma’s handbag
as well as coins and keys;
not just another thing to grab
but the next lines of a story.
Happy Sunday everyone,
This week’s #SustainableSunday post is about the stories of objects in our lives. As the poem above suggests, I still use my grandma’s handbag. I have a ring of hers on my hand, as does my mother, my cousins, and aunt. When she passed in 2014, mum and I sorted through her belongings, watering her beloved garden, packing bags for grandma’s local hospice shop she’d supported in life, while making sure everyone had things to remember her by. This division was not based on monetary value, but on my idea of who would value the story of each object. For example, I also have some of my grandmother’s knitwear and jackets, her reindeer hot water bottle cover which we bought together one icy winter holiday, a wooden carving I helped choose for her when I was seven and one or two of her collection of owly things that I’d added to over the years. Her memory is part of our everyday reality in emotionally nourishing and practical, useful ways.
This pattern of keeping and treasuring is not confined to honouring those we’ve lost. I’ve always had a connection with the stories of objects. Our furniture is mostly pre-loved, one chest of draws passed down my husband’s family while others come from charity shops, junk shops, street corners, and occasional antique stores. Our bed frame was given to us by a friend who moved to the Netherlands. Our first bed, a cheap DIY futon, later became a garden bench then decking over the years, until it was only good for firewood. Much of our furniture we keep promising to add a lick of varnish or chalk paint to. I have ‘new’ nobs for one old piece that have been waiting for years to be installed. Even saying this, our home is beautiful if a little chaotic in places and worn in others.
I still use two pencil cases I had decades ago in school only because they still function. However, books, art, ancient cuddly toys (yes, my inner child is very much alive), and clothes often take on the role of photographs, bringing us back to a certain time, or times, to a place, person or emotion. My wedding shoes are still with me, bought in Italy with my mother and connected to some of the most special events I’ve been part of.
I do not possess my mother’s talent for sewing or my grandmother’s for knitting. Fiddly things, limited dexterity and energy, and past scars equal low motivation to try. I do cherish what they created for me, including a blanket they made together for my eighteenth when I asked for a tent and things people made. The tent was with me until I could no longer get in and out of it, (mobility issues, not size, in case you’re wondering). A few years back it joined a community shipment to Calais, to help shelter refugees. I’ve progressively found throwing things away tough, largely because I wonder where ‘away’ is. Thinking that way can occasionally be quite paralyzing until solutions can be found. In contrast, giving and exchange always feel good, from buying and donating to what my dad calls ‘Oxfam Street’, to organizing clothes exchange parties, I have felt liberated.
Yet, so many of the objects around us are imbibed with memories and love. Like our home and ourselves they have sometimes been re-imagined or renovated.
Where there are stories to hoard I will hoard them. So much of my wardrobe has been dyed when I’ve become bored or whites and blacks have started to become grey. Two petticoats that stopped fitting my mother have been dyed twice and are only now on their final fade, frayed at the edges, with my mum herself insisting I have new clothes. This week we gathered together three bags, one for dying, one for mending (not by me with my limited dexterity) and one for donation or exchange. The dye comes out today.
I wheel around in a wheelchair that used to be my father-in-law’s. I also have an all-terrain one with Mountainbike wheels we bought as a family to create new memories with. Both are better than the heavy, wonky one the NHS gave me, which would land anyone pushing me into a wheelchair of their own before long. Meanwhile, our niece and nephew’s art gets kept to make tomorrow’s cushion prints. Making new things to complete the circle.
Today washed-out plastic containers are being soaked in a vinegar solution to refill at the local zero waste shop which will also save some money and limit waste. I’ve brewed a couple of basic toiletries and cleaning projects in a couple. I’ll make perfume in some old glass bottles, creating new stories for myself and others.
in this circus home
forests of recollections
whisper new seeds.
Antonia Sara Zenkevitch
“One thing I do right though is to keep my mindset that came from growing up in Jamaica, which is to use a thing until it can go no further. I have a water bottle from 4 years ago – it used to be my daughter’s for school. The drawing of Snoopy on his doghouse is chipped in places, there are dents here and there and the rubber gasket is discolored, but I continue to use it. So too with a lot of my clothes and shoes. Same for furniture.” Jackie
Check out her wonderful piece Omens Unheeded