I have a massive closet in my upstairs spare bedroom that I pretty much use like an attic. On top of the lifetime collection of paraphernalia I have accumulated in my forty-something years, I often store in there numerous empty boxes & materials I can use for packing & shipping in my Etsy shop. Needless to say, the closet can get jam-packed over time & often starts to resemble the aftermath of a cyclone. This makes me crazy, so I have to periodically haul it all out, go through things & straighten it up for my own peace of mind. Every time I do this, I almost always find some old artifact that I can put up for sale in both of my shops. This morning I found myself, yet again, doing this dreadful but necessary task, & sure enough, I did unearth a long-lost gem. This treasure, however, will never be something that is sold…..at least not in my lifetime.
While moving heavy totes & cartons out of my limited pathway to get to the back of the closet, the lid fell off of a cardboard box full of old photo albums & scrapbooks from my youth. I couldn’t resist the urge to pull some of them out & have a look after all these years. In the process of doing so, that’s where I found it…..laying quite unpretentiously amidst a stack of single pictures & greeting cards. It was an old autograph album. Do you remember those? When I was a young girl, it was very popular to have these little books, as it had been for centuries, in which you could invite others to write their sentiments or signatures. My album was a plain, green one & holding it there in my hands, I honestly couldn’t recall how or when I came to own it. When I opened the cover, I recognized my dad’s handwriting where he had written my name & address. He had even written the first entry that just happened to be on Christmas Day. It must have been a present for me under the tree that year! I slowly turned each page, reading with much amusement the thoughts & comments of people I haven’t thought about in ages….former teachers, classmates, my first boyfriend, a few autographs of famous hockey players at the time & a local girl trying to make the Olympic gymnastics team (in case she was the next Nadia, perhaps?), along with notes from various family members. The page that gave me greatest pause, however, was the one my grandfather had signed. I was so moved at the sweetness of what he had written, I uttered a sound with which I was unfamiliar yet gave every indication of the warmth & happiness I felt deep in my heart at that very moment. I am certain I was not old enough that long-ago Christmas to comprehend the double entendre he had included in his last phrase, but reading it now after so many years, it definitely melted my heart because it was so much so something he would have said. It was so “him” – a clever & charmingly old fashioned gentleman.
My grandfather has been gone some thirty-one years now but in the short time he had been in my life, he was a constant & significant part. It wasn’t until much later after he passed away that I realized what an important man he had been in the city where I was raised. He had already retired before I was born so it wasn’t in my conscious awareness as a child of him ever having worked at a job. There were, however, plenty of hints to what he had once been & done all around his home such as the array of official photos on the fireplace mantel, the uniforms, coats & hats hanging in closets & his workshop in the basement, the phone calls & visits from lifelong friends & acquaintances from his professional days with whom he kept in regular contact, & perhaps the most blatant reminder….his scanner. It had been top of the line for that day & age & it was quite a curiosity to me. It sat proudly behind his big chair in the living room where he read the paper every day & it was always on….making crackling, fuzzy sounds & announcements that meant nothing to me as a little child. Given all these things, they were only glimmers for my small ears & eyes to understand. Even as a teenager when he died somewhat unexpectedly & our family had to wake him for four straight days because people were lined up for blocks to pay their respects, I still didn’t grasp the enormity of who & what he had been, the countless lives he had saved, the respect he had earned from so many, how in the true spirit of the American dream he had forged his way from nothing to something substantial & honorable with great humility….that all was still incomprehensible back then. To me, he was just my grandfather who had bounced me on his knee singing “Pop Goes the Weasel,” who enjoyed carpentry & made toys for my siblings & me in his workshop, who loved to take ridiculous amounts of photographs & slides, who made the best homemade waffles on the weekend, who always had “one of each” when offered an assortment of holiday desserts, who grew raspberries, pansies & gorgeous hydrangeas in his garden, who always said, “Congratulations!” to you & shook your hand when it was your birthday, who strung beautiful, huge, blue lights in the Douglas Fir tree on his front lawn every Christmas, & who fiercely spoiled, loved & protected all his family, particularly his grandchildren. I did not know him in any other capacity. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have asked more questions, listened more closely to his stories, would have better cherished the brief time I had in his presence. And like anyone else who has lost a loved one, I only wish I had had more time with him.
With the passing of someone special in our lives, we all tend to find ways to keep that person with us, to fill the empty void & lessen the sadness by surrounding ourselves with mementos & keepsakes that have personal significance. We begin to connect with physical objects because they provide us with inklings & shadows of the person we remember & the memories we shared with him or her. If you have read one of my previous posts, The Victorian Tea Party, you know that I developed an affinity for tea cups & silverplate because those particular things reminded me of my grandmother & aunt, & having those items around me subsequently made me feel close to them once again. The same was true of Flora & her identifying with the sleigh bells hanging in my shop in my second post, Flora’s Gift. Further, it would not be a normal day if a customer didn’t come into my shop, pick something up & have it generate a happy recollection that they relay to me through a story. Vintage & antique pieces can almost be considered double the treasure because they always invoke pleasant memories of people from our past….& that helps to keep them with us. Even as a seller, I tend to gravitate to items that remind me of my loved ones & I like to sell them in my shop. It’s comforting. Take, for example, this old tooth powder tin.
It inspires a favorite memory of my grandfather. There was always a tin like this one in his cabinet above the bathroom sink because that’s all he ever used his whole life. No paste. How I loved to spend the night at his house because, when he wasn’t looking, my aunt would sprinkle some on my toothbrush & let me try it! More importantly, my grandfather never brushed his teeth; he washed them…..that’s what he called it. Only he didn’t pronounce the word quite that way. When he said it, it sounded more like “warsh.” My siblings & I would burst into a fit of giggles if he ever announced he was going to “warsh his teeth.” He’d ask, “What’s wrong with all of you, don’t you ever warsh your teeth?” & then call us all a bunch of silly willies. That would make us squeal even harder with laughter & he would just shake his head, chuckling, then head to the bathroom. This wonderful, funny remembrance of my grandfather comes from a simple, aged tin that anyone else would just take for granted. That is the power an old object can hold if we make a personal connection with it.
And such is the case with the little verse my grandfather left for me in my autograph album. Little did I know when he wrote it so many years ago that it would be so comforting & significant to me today. Particularly on this specific day & date….that is no coincidence. It’s discovery had impeccable timing & I know without a doubt it is my grandfather’s doing. Not only has he planted a seed of creative inspiration in my head with this lovely, old saying I found again, but I feel strongly it is him sending me a hug from heaven on this very special day. How do I know this with the utmost of certainty? Because my grandfather’s birthday was on Valentine’s Day.