29 May 2013


With more frequency—and something akin to mild alarm—I glance around my home at all the possessions I've amassed over the years.  Furniture, hats, table linens, bed linens, tea towels, handkerchiefs, bandboxes filled with ladies gloves, and more china and crystal than is healthy or even safe in a cottage as small as mine.  And then there are the uncountable hard covered books.

I am blessed with siblings, a child, grandchildren, and dear friends, and into their caring hands I have often thought the dear detritus of my life might fall one day, finding a loving home.  But as I age, so too do my brothers and friends, and it becomes clear that the younger generations of my family will be the caretakers of this imposing physical legacy.

This would all be well and good except my child has entirely different taste from mine, preferring a more streamlined and modern look to my quirky Merchant-Ivory style.  (Or as a friend said once when he saw my cottage for the first time: "PBS called.... they want their sets back." Considering he worked as a propert master for the BBC, I realized there had to be some truth in this glib remark!)

And so I look around and wonder.... where will this all go?  Will there will be thrift shops playing host to my china? Will the antiques I've acquired find themselves on a table at the rear of some dusty consignment shop? Will my books, hats and ephemera be featured on jumbled tables at a flea mart?  (Perhaps this is how I'll finally be at the Brimfield Flea Market someday, albeit in absentia...) Or will my grandchildren feel as I did when my grandmothers died and want to preserve every doily, dish and mirror they can, not only as a memento of my life but of the times I lived in and the times (much further back than my own) that I admired?

This subject became even more pointed in my mind following the recent death of an elderly aunt. She was a widow and childless, and we had only 2 weeks to sort, inventory, pack and remove all her life's possessions...  deciding what to save, what to donate, what to sell, or what to give away to those few friends who had survived her.  The daughter of English-born parents, her cottage was always a haven to me. She had innumerable books about the Royal Family (including newspaper clippings about 'The Abdication'), and her china cabinet was full of precious memorabilia:  porcelain cups and plates dating from Elizabeth II's coronation and on through her subsequent jubilees and her mother's 100th birthday; Wedgewood plates honoring Churchill and Eisenhower; miniature pieces of Delftware and Spode.

The fireplace was adorned with her martingales full of horse brasses, and as a small child I was welcome to sit in the tiny mahogany chair on the hearth next to the metal foot warmer. She was always something of an historian and was a collector of books about Jefferson, Washington, or anything to do with WWII. Her glassware and china were choice and her furniture—mostly cherry—was of high quality.  In short, you walked into her small cottage (or in later years her even smaller apartment) and were immediately transported back to England, with tabletops full of of blue and white porcelain, a piping teapot on the butler's caddy, many cats underfoot, petit-point footstools and comfy wing chairs, a Gov. Winthrop secretary overflowing with correspondence, and countless framed lithographs of coaches, hostelries, and her American heroes ranging the walls.

How do you take a life and pack it up into boxes? What should be kept and what given away? Is there anyone who will care as deeply as she did about her pewter tankards, her old coal skuttle, her ginger jar lamp or her Halcyon boxes celebrating the births of Princes William and Henry.... or the one celebrating the short-lived marriage of their parents?

And so when the task was finished and her life had been sorted and packed, it prompted me to look around at my own possessions, realizing that someone will have this same task facing them one day. It made me wonder about that ephemeral quality of things and how we seem to spend so much time collecting and loving them, when in the end they always outlast us. Bereft of their owners, they will either become a burden to those who must sort, inventory and decide what to do with them, or if we're lucky, they will be a tangible memory of what mattered to us in life and what gave us pleasure.  A piece of us left behind for them to cherish. We are merely their temporary caretakers.  Or as a favorite professor used to tell me: There are no hearses with luggage racks!

The irony of course is that whoever finds him—or her—self looking after my things some day will also be looking after my aunt's, since many of them reside with me, now. The last box has been unpacked and her dear things are safe once again, having somehow found their way into my own treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam.

Perhaps the simplest solution would be a codicil in my will addressed to the BBC property master:  "They can have it all back, now."


  1. Good Afternoon Haworth, This same thought had crossed my mind. We spend our lives surrounding ourselves with items which we love. We dust them, we clean them and we love them and then when we are gone, where do they go.
    I remember years ago, Jack, a lovely neighbour of my mother's had a beautiful garden, he had tended it since he was a young married man. He grew vegetables during the war, and continued into his 80's growing vegetables, fruits and flowers. I used to admire his garden from my mother's bedroom window and every so often he would invite me to take a tour. Then sadly one day he passed away. The house was sold and the young family who moved in cleared absolutely everything from the garden, and lawned the area. I understand why they did it as they wanted their young children to run and play on the grass, but it felt like Jack's life's work had been wiped away in an afternoon. On warm sunny afternoons, when Jack opened his windows, we used to love hearing Josephine Baker records playing on his gramophone. (Yes it was that old)
    He had lost a child during the war, so there was no one to leave his possessions to, so the local council organised the removal of his possessions and that was the end of his life.
    It seemed so very sad. I always hoped, that like me, people would buy his books and possessions and wonder who owned them, so although Jack had gone, his possession would became part of someone else's life.
    I think your children will love some of your possessions though, because it is the memories which are associated with them.
    Failing that...... I know the BBC would love them! (just teasing you).
    Best Wishes

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by, Daphne, and for that poignant memory of your neighbor and friend, Jack. I think this sort of thing happens quite often, sadly, but perhaps his things were absorbed into a stranger's household and loved just as I love all the odd things I've bought in thrift shops over time. I wonder, too, about what a new owner will do with my garden. That's entirely different post one day!! I hope you're enjoying the spring.

  3. I often think about this same thing, Haworth. I have so many things here in the cottage (and in the shed!) and I don't know who will inherit them. I don't have children. I do have nieces and nephews, but will they even be interested in them?


  4. We come into this world with nothing, and leave the same way. All we can hope for is to be remembered...I only hope someone (not a family member, who we are all sure will remember us.....fondly..) will one day say remember that lady who lived across the street she was so nice!!!!!!! All our "things" will pass on to others hopefully loved, I know I catch one of my daughters eyeing my Jenny lind dishes......waiting...

  5. I have many items that belonged to people I've never known or met as I'm sure you do, Claudia, and I have loved and cherished each one of them and made up stories in my mind about their history and previous owners. We can only hope our dearest possessions will fall into the hands of people who love them, whether they be relatives, friends or appreciative strangers. And I agree, Mary, that being remembered for our kindness is the loveliest and most meaningful form of immortality!