The Pleasures of Vintage Ephemera: Eddie!!

I bought an old diary at a garage sale. Three years ago. For 25 cents.

IMG_0121

I finally took a good look.

IMG_0122

I can’t stop smiling.

Version 2

You don’t need me to tell you why.

In 1940, Lois loved Eddie. A lot.

And Eddie loved Lois.

May 1 was the big day:

IMG_0126

IMG_0127

Let’s just assume they lived happily ever after, shall we?

A Hostage to Sentiment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m being held captive, on memory lane. It’s a sweet captivity, in many ways, the bonds of fond reminiscences, but I’m shackled nonetheless.

Like so many of you, I am in spring-cleaning mode. I look around my house and I desperately want to simplify and streamline. I yearn for clean surfaces and for a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place.

But I am not temperamentally suited to it. So incredibly not suited . . .

This house is packed to the rafters with stuff. There’s the stuff for all the things my husband and I make—the weaving stuff, the lapidary stuff, the metalsmithing stuff, the quilting and cross stitch and candymaking stuff. Oh, and the vintage linen stuff. Let’s not forget that.

But at least those things have something of a purpose, good reasons to be here. They entertain us and allow us to be productive and make pretty things.

The other stuff is more problematic. It’s the stuff of sentimentality, of nostalgia, of family.

So much of what is here is laden with meaning for me and for my husband.

That table and chairs came from his grandparents. This table and chairs was my grandparents’, purchased when they first set up housekeeping 85 years ago.

The clock case my husband’s father made, the cases of specimens my grandfather collected as a rock hound, the sweaters my mother knit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Some of the things we have have extrinsic value—I have my grandmother’s sterling silver flatware, a setting for twelve. Very nice, but we don’t use it, our lifestyle doesn’t call for it, so it sits and tarnishes and waits to be passed down.

Most of what we’re talking about here has only intrinsic value, it is special only because it’s special to us. A perfect example is a little wood and metal lantern we picked up in the middle of nowhere in Ireland on our honeymoon. Probably made by Travelers, just a piece of junk, but it’s our junk, from our honeymoon.

Lots of little things take up space, like a china rose bowl my grandmother loved, an aluminum measuring cup, full of dents, that came from the other grandmother’s kitchen. Three doll-size chests, made by one or another man in the family for one or another child. It goes on and on.

And it’s not all special because it’s old and handed down. I have a bust of Aristotle that serves no purpose except looking wise and collecting dust. But, see, it isn’t just a bust of Aristotle. It’s the bust of Aristotle that my sister carried back from Greece, on her lap so it wouldn’t break, to give me because I was finally completing my doctorate in . . . wait for it . . . rhetoric. See? It’s a special, special bust of Aristotle.

My grandparents’ bed is emblematic of the struggle I’m having. It’s an oak bed, carved wood, pretty ornate but nothing special; it was probably inexpensive when they bought it. I figure my father was conceived in this bed and I slept in it, with my grandmother, when I was a little girl staying overnight at the farmhouse.

I’ve always known this bed.

The bed moved with me from the farm to grad school in Pennsylvania and then to Buffalo.

In spite of being a three-quarter bed—only about 48 inches wide—my husband and I slept in this bed, with multiple cats, for the first 15 years we were married. It was cozy, to say the least. Eventually, it was moved to the guest room. When we retired and came here, back here near the farm where it originally stood, the bed came along.

It’s big. It’s awkward. It’s not comfortable for sleeping.

Like so many other things we own, it has got to go.

I look around me—Don gave me that decorative box when we were dating. We got that blanket on our honeymoon. My students gave me this desk plaque when I finished my Ph. D. Nice memories of wonderful times, but the things aren’t the memories and I’m drowning in things.

For heaven’s sake! Why do I keep this stuff?! What am I afraid of? That if I throw away the tag from my first cat’s collar, even though she died 15 years ago, that I’ll forget the cat?

Or that, if I sell my grandmother’s bed, I’m somehow betraying her and forgetting where I came from?

Intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. If you came to me with a similar dilemma, I could coolly and calmly explain to you why you should divest yourself of the weight of the past. I’d say, “Take some photos of these sentimental things, keep the photos, sell the things, and use the money to go on a nice trip and make new memories.”

I’d say, “They’re only things.”

See how smart I can be when I’m being logical? If only logic ruled . . .

I am making progress—some sentimental possessions have been pressed into practical service so I can justify having them, because they’re earning their keep. One handmade doll’s chest holds spices in the kitchen, another holds office supplies and stamps. An antique knife box corrals dishtowels, and so on.

But, as of two days ago, the bed is in the garage. A yard sale looms and there’s always Craigslist. Maybe some young couple will see the value in a cozy bed with history on its side. My husband and I are being pretty ruthless and are getting rid of things we couldn’t’ve 5 years ago.

We’ll still have plenty of things left to sustain our memories of people and places, but we won’t have ALL of the things.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be hostages to sentimentality for a long time, and we’re ready to pay the ransom. The ransom will have its cost—some pangs, a tear or two, maybe even some regret down the road—but freedom always has its cost.

Why Vintage? Reason #4

IMG_2328I’m a sentimental fool. That’s why, since I started this series asking, “Why vintage?,” I’ve been looking forward to reason #4.

The question was, why do some people love vintage so much? The first reason I discussed was that vintage is fashionable; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to reuse; the third was the related issues of cost and quality.

All of these aforementioned reasons are legit but the one that really gets to me, and to many lovers of vintage, is that these old things either belonged to, or are associated with, the people, places, and eras we loved and have lost.

4) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of sentiment and nostalgia

Some people just don’t get this at all. We all know these people. They can’t understand why anyone would want old, used stuff. They live in the present and don’t look back. I’m sure they love their families but they don’t need used belongings around to prove it!

If you’re one of those people, read on to learn about what makes the rest of us tick! The rest of you, the ones who get it already—think about your own precious reminders as you read about some of mine!

First let me make a distinction—the difference to me between sentiment and nostalgia is that the former has to do with affection for people and the latter has to do with a desire for a simpler time or place.

I get sentimental about the old things that bear the imprint of my family. Every vintage or antique item from my family tells a story. The story may be based on facts or it may be just one that I sort of made up to fit my memories but the story is what makes the object precious.

I have my grandmother’s baby cup. It has some extrinsic value—it’s fine quality, it’s an antique, it’s a lovely design.

Inscription: Lydia 1905

Inscription: Lydia 1905

None of that matters to me. All I can think about is the baby Lydia, born in 1905, who received the cup as a namesake gift from her great-aunt Lydia, who was born in 1847, and was the daughter of another Lydia born in 1808! Thinking of the baby Lydia playing with the pretty cup adds a dimension to my idea of my grandmother and has encouraged me to learn about the Lydias who came before her.

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905-2002

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Similarly, every time I fold a big old damask linen tablecloth, I have visions of that same grandmother and how she would fold one, to minimize the wrinkles at the fold lines. And that Jadeite coffee cup, just like the one my mother carried around the house all day when I was little! The old things aren’t just things—they speak to me about people.

I also get nostalgic in response to the vintage items I come across that were never owned by my actual family. If I see a table at a flea market with that 1960s Formica that had the boomerang shapes and the glitter, it transports me right back to the kitchen of the house we had when I was a happy little girl.

I have also accumulated vintage maple syrup tins because some of my fondest memories of growing up center around the sugar house we had on the farm and the process of making maple syrup. The tins just give me a warm, fuzzy feeling! And how about that great paint-by-numbers picture of sugaring down?

IMG_2321I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, too! The interactions I’ve had with people who buy vintage items from my Etsy shop and with blog readers tell me that sentiment and nostalgia are behind a lot of vintage love. Just a few of the comments I’ve received:

  • Thank you for the lovely damask napkins. They are every bit as soft as my grandmother’s were!
  • I was so pleased . . . It reminds me of linens my Grandmother had.
  • My mother had one just like this!
  • I especially cherish a bread basket liner she crocheted with the word “bread” misspelled. I think I love it more so because it isn’t perfect.
  • I wonder who owned these things, what was their story? . . . I guess I see a lot of character in those old items while new shiny items have no stories to tell yet.

There sure are a lot of us out there!

It’s true one can become overwhelmed by the reminders of the past. I know people who have so many knickknacks from their grandparents, recipes from their mothers, toys from when they were children, concert tickets from when they were in college, pictures of their children, etc., etc., that they find it difficult to surface from the memories and the detritus.

I am trying to reach a point where I pick a few extra-special items that connect me to my past and let the rest go. My cousins plan to line up all the stuffed toys and dolls they’ve kept from their childhood and take a photo and then get rid of the toys themselves. But I know I simply will not want to part with a lot of things. And so I won’t!

How about you? What is your most treasured piece of family history? What do you collect for reasons of sentiment or nostalgia? Christmas ornaments? Mid-century dishes? Or does it all just leave you cold?