Susan’s Thursday Morning Note October 12, 2017 Home full of “knick knack” treasures misunderstood by others to be junk. Bess Streeter Aldrich - Granddaughter entering home of her grandmother who just died.
Good morning! The quiet of fall. The still sun piercing the window. Dust on my treasures. I look around at what others may call my “knick knacks.” My memories with each one. A scene replaying in my mind of what I see around my room as I type. Papers stacked and sticking out my books that I have a sentimental reason for keeping that no one else will understand, but my treasures. Flotsam. I just read the meaning for this word. Washed up pieces after a shipwreck. Treasures washed into my life from various moments in my life. My flotsam. Little pieces of my life and memories. A porcelain cat only I can replay the scene as my mom handed it to me as I left for college. A map. Hiking 30 years ago live picture in my mind as I see it. Bulletin edge sticking out of book across room. I know my mom’s writing is on it. A flower drawn bookmark. Given in love to me from my personal artist. An old card deck I can see in my mind still setting at Arnold’s house. My chair with so many holes and tears I don’t want to take to another room because it holds my stories. I hold on to things. I do not consider it my fault, but my ability to savor my life. My treasures. My moments.
This week a friend came to my counter with only an arrowhead to purchase, making the statement, “I have no need for this, but I love it, and my home is full of knick-knacks!” How I loved that sentence! Instead of the movement to “de-clutter” and to have clear homes, clear minds this friend saw the importance of “knick knacks” being an important part of his home. I then went to find two memories of writings I loved from several years ago. The first being from Anne Lindberg describing a woman she is visiting who collects beautiful things. She is “a kind of hostess to herself, self-contained in the fullest sense…Enough fullness of life in her family, friends, books, collecting lovely things for her house, etc., to be contained in them.”
The other character that argues the importance of surrounding herself with what she loves is Abby Deal in A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. I am going to write out the words on collecting over a life-time, including the dismantling of all of her treasures the week she died by her children in the sequel, A White Bird Flying.
The interior of the house, during Abbie Deal’s lifetime, was a combination of old-fashioned things which she had accumulated through the years, and modern new ones which the grown children had given her…Abbie Deal kept everything that had ever come into the house. Every nail, every button, every string, was carefully hoarded. “This would make a strong bottom for one of the kitchen chairs some day,” old Abbie Deal would say, when in trough the bottom of the chair was a strong as its legs. Or, “Save those stubs of candles from the Christmas tree. I can melt them and turn them into one big one” The characteristic was a hang-over from the lean and frugal days when the country was new, when every tiny thing had its use. As a consequence, there was in the house the flotsam of all the years. [Flotsam meaning remains of shipwreck].
Protest of daughter to her accumulation: Mother, if the house only represented one time period, but it’s such a jumbled combination of things. They’re not antique. They’re just old.”
Response by older woman with “knick knacks” – “And why should it?” Old lady Deal flared up a little. “I’m no one period. I’ve lived with spinning-wheels and telephones…with tallow-dips and electric lights. I’m not antique. I’m just old. It represents, me, doesn’t it?”
Granddaughter Abby entering her grandmother’s home before anyone had come and touched anything right after her grandmother died:
The hot afternoon sunshine lay in long streaks across the floor of the sitting-room with the cross shadows of the window-casings in them. There was a faint odor of flowers in the air-roses and tube-roses and the cinnamon-like odor of carnations. It was deathly still. A fly bumbling against the pane with little bumping noises was the only sound in the house. The clock was not even ticking. Everything was just as Grandma Deal had left it. The old chintz-covered couch in one corner had Grandma’s shawl folded neatly over the back. The rocking-chairs were in their places. A little square stand with a red spread on it held the church papers and seed catalogues and an old song book, and on the mantel shelf were the two flowered vases and the turkey-feather fan. Not a thing looked different. Everything seemed just as it had the week before when Grandma was going in and out, putting away the eggs and washing her dishes and sorting poppy seed into paper folders.
But in one way Grandma didn’t seem to have gone away at all. That was the queerest thing. She could summon Grandma into her mind just as clearly as though she were standing over there by the table,–small, shrunken, shoulders rounded, a little white knot of hair at the nape of her neck, wrinkled face, bright brown eyes, slender hands, veined and trembling, with queer brown spots on them, and long tapering fingers twisted a little with rheumatism. Just last week Grandma had stood right by that table and laughed about a funny thing Christine Reinmueller had said–Grandma could laugh so heartily. It almost seemed that if she would call her now, Grandma would just walk in from the kitchen and—
“Grandma,” she called softly, scarcely above a whisper. Her heart beat rapidly at the sound of her own voice in the stillness.
There was only a great silence, deep and unfathomable–the same vast quiet that has confronted all humanity–that always will confront it, until one by one each hears a voice in the silence. There was the old sewing-machine and the little red pincushion on it, bristling with black and white pins like a variegated porcupine. Queer, how things lasted longer than people. Tomorrow the house was to be dismantled. Tomorrow Aunt Margaret and Aunt Isabelle and Aunt Grace were all coming to divide the things. It seemed a horrible plan,–to talk of separating the old things. They ought to be left together. She wondered if they would miss each other after nearly sixty years of standing side by side. How could the sewing-machine get along without the little red pincushion? Or the blue flowered vases without the turkey fan? Aunt Isabelle had said she wanted this tallow lamp. It was a queer old thing, with the wick hanging out like a tongue. Grandma had told her it once hung in her Grandmother’s house, an Irish peasant’s hut among the whins and silver hazels of Bally-poreen. She loved the musical sound of those words, and said them over: “the whins and silver hazels of Bally-poreen.”
After her death Abby’s children distributing her possessions:
“I never saw so many things in my life,” each one insisted. “Loads and loads of the accumulations of years. Every magazine, every paper, every string and button that ever came into that house Mother had hoarded.”
And so the old things, once so precious, each one representing sacrifice for the purchase, were scattered to the four winds,–to children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends, church organizations, Salvation Army, the junk pile down by Stove Creek,–like leaves from some sturdy old oak blown hither and yon in the dead of the year. Margaret took the clock with the little brown church painted on the glass, Isabelle the tallow lamp, Mack the thumbed-over Shakespeare,–“Mother used to make me read it when I didn’t know what it was all about,” he explained,–and John the blue plush album, with Eloise deeply annoyed at his absurd choice. Katherine deigned to admit into the lovely new home of English architecture, the newest looking of the pieced quilts,–of Jacob’s Ladder design. Grace, choosing the scrapbook, was surprised beyond measure when Laura, usually quiet and shy as a little brown quail, pounced upon it with an almost tearful ferocity: “Oh, no, Aunt Grace, not the scrapbook. It’s mine . . . please. Grandma always read them all to me . . . she said I could have it. . . .”
Eloise was upset beyond measure and was ready to insist upon Laura’s turning it over to her Aunt Grace with apologies, but Aunt Margaret intervened, and Laura bore home her two possessions in peace,–the little hairy calf-skin trunk with the nailhead initials on it, and the thick old scrapbook with all the lovely verses.
I’ll finish with a poem on all the happenings on a table. The years. The memories. The thoughts. The dreams. All as in a house with memories. What many call hoarding knick-knacks, what others call beauty. I love the home with the memories. With the piles. With the stories that show on the shelves. I love the fall mornings where the same ones written about also walked carrying their “treasured knick knacks” to their homes.
Table by Edip Cansever (Istanbul, Turkey 1928-1986) A man filled with the gladness of living Put his keys on the table, Put flowers in a copper bowl there. He put his eggs and milk on the table. He put there the light that came in through the window, Sound of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel The softness of bread and weather he put there. On the table the man put Things that happened in his mind. What he wanted to do in life. He put that there. Those he loved, those he didn’t love, The man put them on the table too. Three times three make nine: The man put nine on the table. He was next to the window next to the sky; He reached out and placed on the table endlessness. So many days he had wanted to drink a beer! He put on the table the pouring of that beer. He placed there his sleep and his wakefulness; His hunger and his fullness he placed there. Now that’s what I call a table! It didn’t complain at all about the load. It wobbled once or twice, then stood firm. The man kept piling things on.
Again, thank you for letting me try to put together my thoughts this Thursday morning for you. I want to end with one more poem by Edna Vincent Millay on seeing someone that died when you look across a room right after their death. How I’ve treasured this poem for so many years. Looking so many places and seeing scenes in my home. And the words on entering the home right after death. All that was just touched by who we loved. I so hope this gives you the same beauty as me. Susan
Edna St Vincent Millay: Everywhere I look you are, but you're nowhere. The room is full of you…. You are not here. I know that you are gone, and will not ever enter here again. And yet it seems to me, if I should speak, Your silent step must wake across the hall; if I should turn my head,that your sweet eyes Would kiss me from the door. – So short a time To teach my life its transposition to This difficult and unaccustomed key! I honestly love this poem. It is beautiful. Here are other lines (completely out of order) that I love… There is your book, just as you laid it down, And here are the last words your fingers wrote…in this brown book I gave you… you did not know you would not write again…. "I picked the first sweet-pea today." What is the need of Heaven When earth can be so sweet?
Works Cited: Aldrich, Bess Streeter. A Lantern in Her Hand. 1994. University of NE Press. Lincoln. Aldrich, Bess S. A White Bird Flying. New York. University of Nebraska Press. 1988. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. Early Poems. 1998. Penguin Group. New York. Nye, Naomi Shihab, Selected From. The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East. Simon and Schuster. New York, NY. 1998.