When I was in about third grade, my mother sewed this coat for me. Of course, it was nothing like what the other kids were wearing in 1971, so I hated it, thinking I looked like a european refugee child from WWII. My mother had it packed away somewhere and I discovered it when we moved her to a care facility. I found it again recently while going through things for donation.
Just over two and half years ago, I moved my mom out of her apartment nearby, and into a board and care facility. As I prepared to move everything out of the apartment, I decided I would photograph everything in it. Every thing. I did. The aim was to document all the objects which held some significance before casting anything to oblivion. Actually, it was to document everything and figure out later what has significance. The truth of the matter is that every single thing did. That’s just how I am.
There were just a few things I missed because they were not in the apartment at the time. A sugar bowl had been in use at my house for a couple years. It was my parents’, probably my father’s from before his marriage to my mother, and I remember it from early childhood. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned what depression glass is, or that it is somewhat collectible.
A month or two after I had completed the documentation project, I decided to photograph the few things that were scattered around my house. The sugar bowl was in heavy use near the stove. I thought to wash it before photographing it. That’s when I dropped it in the sink and broke it, and my heart. Though broken, I decided I would still photograph it, but I didn’t do it then. I was too disappointed at the time. I finished washing it and put it up on the shelf above the stove for later. Two and half years later, I’ve finally got it over with so that I can now,… cast it into oblivion.
Another of the photos I took while preparing to move my mother out of her apartment and into a board and care facility. That was almost exactly two years ago. Somehow it seems like decades ago, so much has changed since then: she went through surgeries and medical emergencies, and is so much more out of it; I went through job changes; we lost a few people; Theo has grown so much.
Anyway, my mother kept a lot of her sewing stuff in an old tin. It probably had butter cookies or something like that it in it originally. The holiday design caused me to associate holly with sewing rather than Christmas for years. At least they have sharp pointy things in common.
From the Family Heirloom Project. My mom made all her own clothes the entire time I was growing up. It had been awhile since I had seen her wear this one. I can’t even remember when I saw her in it. But it is typical of the kind of fabric she would buy. She did sew some some elegant things. But curtains and the occasional dress got the gaudy treatment with outlandish prints, usually with lots of blues and greens.
My father’s birthday is coming up in the next few days, and so I have been thinking about him a lot lately. One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is photograph everything I still have from him, and create a kind of catalog of evidence. Somehow I never get around to it, and periodically forget about it altogether. This seems like as good a time as any to actually start exploring the project.
One of the remarkable things about my father was his outsider art. He made pictures, sort of mosaics, out of cut up postage stamps. This is a part of one of his pieces devoted to FDR. He was also an FDR democrat. To the very end. Content-wise it’s quite unsophisticated, but what do you want from an uneducated Greek immigrant who survived the depression working menial food service jobs in NYC?
I still miss him after 16 years, but I’m glad that he is not around to see the current political climate in which Republicans are actively aiming to dismantle Social Security.
Last year we moved mom to a board and care facility on account of her increasing dementia, and it was while we were emptying out her apartment that I photographed everything in it for my Family Heirloom Project. Among the items was this one: a little ceramic bowl.
I attended kindergarten at Del Mar Elementary School and had Mrs. Kasner. She was an older lady with fiery red hair. I liked her just fine, although she occasionally sent me to the “thinking chair” or, if we were out on the playground, the “thinking step” to think about something I had done. All that thinking; maybe that’s where I picked up the habit that eventually resulted in grad school in philosophy. My cousin Tommy claimed that she once told him he’d never learn to read and that he never got over it.
In any case, we did a lot of art projects in her class. For example, there was lots of finger painting. I still remember the first day when we were told to bring an old shirt of our father’s to wear while painting. We wore them backwards. I still managed to get paint all over myself. One day, we did a ceramics project. I made a small, simple bowl. I remember shaping it with my fingers, over and over again, trying to get it right. I never really succeeded, but eventually got something to hand over to Mrs. Kasner.
So, I made this little bowl, and painted it blue and black. On the bottom was inscribed “Nickie AM”, because I was in the a.m. class. I brought it home and gave it to my mom as a gift. She did a lot of sewing and needed pins to be handy. She was always pinning things up for alterations, or pinning patterns to fabric, and so on. So she kept pins in it. For 40 years or more that thing sat on her sewing machine with pins in it. After we moved my mom, it came to our house and sat on a bookshelf in the office. Without the pins, of course.
Just a few months later I was cleaning up around the side of the house where the trash and recycling bins sit. I saw a little patch of blue on the ground and a wad of neurons jangled in my head. It was so familiar. I picked up a little chard, then another and another. My heart sank.
What one kindergartener made, another demolished. (I know, it’s a metaphor for a natural process all children and their parents go through.) I don’t know exactly what happened, and never will, I’m sure. Somehow Theo got ahold of the bowl and it became a play thing, until it broke. I have to admit that at first I was pretty mad. But when i looked into that sad, confused little boy’s face, I knew I had to just let it go. I might have gone a long time, maybe forever, never thinking about that little bowl. I don’t know what I would have done with it anyway, other than allow it to be another piece of baggage to carry around the rest of my life and eventually leave to someone with no personal connection or emotional attachment, and hence free to take it to the Goodwill with all the other old crap. So, that came sooner in this case. I didn’t have to carry it around another 40 years. Still, I can’t help feeling a little loss, not of material wealth, but of a piece of the story—a little hole, just like the growing gaps in mom’s memory.