Tuesday, June 27, 2017

stitches, objects and memories

ever since working on cleaning out our mother's house, i've been pondering things. the things we collect, stockpile, accumulate over a lifetime. the mundane things - bowls in which we serve dinner, glasses for milk, ceramic bulldogs, socks, tea towels...

i had some breakable glasses wrapped in the tea towel above for the trip home. the glasses are cheery ones from the 50s - with a pink check and a gold rim. i didn't notice that this tea towel had a careful hand-stitched repair of a hole until i went to iron it yesterday. and i welled up. mom must have sat down with it and carefully stitched a fine little oval-shaped patch into place. i find myself wondering when she did it. she couldn't have done it today. she's losing her words for things like needles and thread and while her fingers might remember how to make careful stitches, i'm not certain her mind could any longer make the connections necessary to do so. what made this particular towel worthy of repair? it is a nice, soft towel of the kind that are hard to find these days - the kind that actually absorbs water and which is soft enough to clean your glasses on and have them end up clean. that's part of why i used it to wrap up the glasses, i knew i would appreciate using it when i got home.

mom's house is full of objects and we donated, gave away, threw away and burned a great many of them. but there were things here and there that i wanted to save and take home - like these glasses and this tea towel. i'm not sure what to make of my choices. i don't particularly remember the glasses from my childhood. i think they are something she collected at a flea market in the years after i left home, so there aren't memories attached to them. but still, they spark joy (a factor my sister swears by after reading the marie kondo book). and it means something to have brought them home with me, across half a continent and an ocean. i feel comforted when i use them.

it is, in many ways, a situation without much comfort, this losing your mother to alzheimer's. i have been able to read about it a little bit now, but still haven't found anything that i feel like is the book i need. i think i deal mostly by avoidance. i don't call her much, because it brings it to the surface, hearing her repeat the same stories - the relocation of her cats to another zip code (as she puts it), the evil people who took her driver's license tho' she wasn't hurting anyone, the whereabouts of her (multiple!) guns - hearing her search for words and stumble around in her decreasing vocabulary. it's too raw and distressing. so i seek comfort in drinking my gin and tonic from cheery glasses she chose or fingering the mended stitches on a tea towel. and it hits me that the tea towel could have been my grandmother's and the stitches hers. and she also had alzheimer's and was eventually erased. leaving behind a mended tea towel, that i muse over at my own desk in my home in denmark, so far from where the stitches were stitched. and i wonder if objects can be repositories of memory. and if it will also happen to me...

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speaking of memory and objects, matisse found joy in things as well.

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an interesting piece on alzheimer's as a women's issue in the lenny letter.


Ariadne said...

Two things happened to us lately.My mum had a double stroke and is in a rehabilitation centre.I had my flat painted and realised we have far too many things around to breathe.Looking at my mum's flat empty of her presence till she returns(?) and all her things waiting for her, most of which have no meaning to me or her grandchildren I simply understand that we have to let go of things. What happens when too many of the things around us bring us happiness?What happens to our things when we are gone?They are thrown away,given,donated,etc. So I have to let go of things earlier than I had thought.AriadneformGreece!

Molly said...

I have a garlic crusher I picked up at my grandfather's house as we were gathering all the last bits and pieces to take to the charity shop - after all the furniture and artworks and family memorabilia had been distributed. I use it weekly and always think so fondly of him when I do.
The silly thing is my grandfather never cooked, probably never handled the thing and it most likely came to their house via my step-grandmother who I was not so fond of.
But it's old-fashioned, well-made, sensible and strong - he would have liked it had he even considered such things - and it distinctly reminds me of him.
Things are so much more linked to emotions than we give them credit for I think, little things like garlic crushers and tea towels.
Lovely post, and hard stuff x

julochka said...

@Ariadne - I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I too look around my own house and realize we have far too many things. I'm taking a week off at the end of the month and I'm going to do a major purge! Hopefully donating many things and selling things that are useful and being ruthless about what stays and what goes.

@Molly - I love the garlic crusher. I wonder if it's just in as humans to ascribe meaning to things. And form emotional attachments. I've got rocks on my windowsill that I love - how does that happen?