Friday, August 27, 2010

On old things

At home this weekend in Virginia, what struck me on that first night were the objects, the things that my parents have owned forever that have only recently returned with them from Texas: the plates and bowls with the mottled pattern of faded fruit around the perimeter; the lovely old water glasses; the ceramic pencil mug in the kitchen; the painting of the old man and the boy looking out over the sea that I found tonight in a bedroom closet.  These are the objects, the talismans, that I have used and eaten from and moved around since I was very, very young.  Tonight before I went to bed I washed my face the way I used to, the way I hated, where your skin feels raw and tiny traces of soap remain on your neck and near your eyes, and that was the sensation that brought me back to that broad scope of memory. 

Now, of course, I have a wife, and a daughter, and my own household.  Yet so much of the idea of "home" is still found in these old things.  And everything I own -- goods from national chain stores, items bought in a fit of urgency or convenience or compromise -- seems cheap and insubstantial.  How could a child ever build a life, or memories of a childhood, from the flimsy bric-a-brac I place into her hands? 

When does this improvisation yield to permanence?

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