Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Collecting Stories

It's an interesting thing about human beings that we like to collect stuff. Speaking for myself, I'm drawn to organized groups of props that tell a story or call back a strong set of memories. I imagine most other people feel pretty much the same way, and that is why collecting is the oldest, largest, and most widely practiced hobby in the history of the world.

(I just made that up. But I bet it's true.)

Just to be clear, I'm not a serious collector of anything. I simply gather up items that are pleasing to me, sift and sort them into categories, add and subtract as my interests and bank balance allow, and enjoy what I have. 

One of my newest collections is a gathering of little plates. I use them in my bedroom for bits of jewelry and little odds and ends that need a home. The brightly colored one on the far left is on loan from a daughter, and reminds me of her first dorm room, where she used this to keep her keys. The little yellow one with the black cat came from Urban Outfitters, and reminds me of my three black cats, Blackberry, Padfoot and Luna. Bless them all. The other three are fairly new to me, recent thrift store finds, and their stories are still in the making. 

Next comes one of my most fiercely edited collections. Over the years, approximately one billion stuffed animals have come into this home and lived among us. The vast majority of them are gone from us now, but my daughters have each adopted a few special ones, and these are the ones I loved most. I seem to be drawn to bunnies and bears in shades of brown and white. Each one tells a sweet story and appeals to me on its own, but as a group, I find their charm to be exponentially multiplied. 

As long as I'm handing out superlatives, let's call this my biggest collection. Boxes. I have a BIG fascination with boxes and lidded containers because they can hold secrets inside. This group includes some finely crafted specimens, like the big oak one with the dovetail joints on the right of the photo, and the round maple one with the open top in the bottom left corner. And I've experimented with the finishes on others, like the golden beaded lid on the top left, the red-painted cloth one on the top right, and the white and green distressed finish on the bottom center. Most of these boxes live in a big handmade cupboard in my living room, and I think they are quite happy there together. 

Here's another great thing about my box collection: many of the boxes house little collections within. The round maple thingy holds my favorite bits of tiny, smooth driftwood.

 A simple wooden hinged box keeps my Santa collection safe for eleven months of the year.

And the little white and green distressed box is home to my state quarter collection. 

Next up, I suppose, is a collection that is actually a subset of the overall box category, a printed metal container edition. This is my most choosy category; I'm very particular about the items I let into this group, and I make them do real work. The tea box really does hold tea bags, although I currently need a refill. The cigar box holds actual cigars, and right now there is a half cigar inside, waiting for the right occasion for me to finish it. And the Babar and Hello Kitty boxes are still seeking their destiny. I'm thinking colored pencils and hair bands, respectively.

Finally, we arrive at my oldest, dearest and most symbolic collection. When I was about nine years old, my mom bought us a set of poster paint. The paint came in tiny glass bottles, and each jar had a lid that matched the color of the paint inside. I LOVED those precious little things, and even when the paint was gone, I could not bear to throw them away. In fact, once I washed them out and lined them up on my shelf, I adored them even more. Thus, a collector was born.

When word got out that I was officially in the market for bottles, my grandmother jumped on the bandwagon big time. Bless her, she kept her eyes peeled any and every small-ish glass container that crossed her path. Over the years, she gave me quite a few. 

These three bottles are all that remain of my once-voluminous collection, and they all came from Grandma. The one on the right was from her medicine cabinet; I never saw what was inside. The one on the left, with tiny flowers etched in the glass, held a splash of rose water. When she gave it to me, it was still about half full, and I was very honored by the gift. 

Most precious to me now is the tall one in the middle. Technically, it's not a bottle at all. It's a cologne shaker; the silver lid has small holes and unscrews from the base to allow for refills.

Best of all, this sweet little object once belonged to my great-grandmother - my mother's mother's mother. I never met her, but I am very happy to own something that once was hers. I'm fascinated to think of this sturdy German-American farm wife, running her home and raising up her ten children with a tight pocketbook and a firm hand, who kept this tiny symbol of luxury within reach. I hope it made her feel beautiful. 

These three simple bottles taught me the value of collecting: gather what you love, edit wisely, and let the objects that you keep tell interesting and important stories about your life. 

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More stories about my grandma:

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