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Building One Home: Stories, September 10, 2012

We have discovered that things common in our life before the fire have disappeared from our memories. Things that we touched, passed by and used often simply have vanished. Memory is like that. It is not uncommon but when you are scrutinizing your life as we are now, ever story and every fact, present or absent, seems significant—and is fodder for analysis of whether or not we are doing OK.

We are doing OK. Our stories are intact. Because of the insurance inventory we are being forced to try to remember every fact of every nook and cranny of our house. What was in that drawer you could hardly close? How many music CDs did you have? What about that scarf you bought when you were on holiday in Paris in 2005, no, was it 2006? “I remember, it was 2005 for sure, that was the year we got the new car. What? The new car is a 2004?”

I asked my spouse about an antique mirror we owned and he could not remember it. I don’t have any memory of my life without that mirror being in the family. Even my spouse was around it for nearly a half-century. It was in the house when he had to come be inspected as future son-in-law material by my mom. After he passed the mother test, when we would go to the house she would ask him to try to get the mirror straight. When he did not remember, I said, “You know, the old Ogee mirror.” He looked blank. I said, “You remember, it is the one that never hung straight.” He did remember that part. One time he and our son worked for a couple of hours to get it to hang straight. They finally got it straight for the first time in my lifetime and perhaps for the first time in the 100 plus years the mirror existed. Still, he could remember the story of trying to get it straight but he could not remember the fact of what it looked like.

The ogee mirror as it was in my mom’s house.

Later, I was working on the inventory of the downstairs bedroom. It should have been easy. I had photos to work with and it was sparsely furnished room.

When I do the inventories, before I looked at the photos, I mentally walk through the room looking at each piece of in it. I have learned to do it that way so I can match my memory of all the things in the room with the photographs that only show some of the things. When I do my mental marching around, I keep my eyes closed as I type so the imagery is strong. I suppose it works because I know each and every thing in each and every room. I had put it there with intention and it lived in that place for a reason.

As I was going through the inventory, two things happened. First, I wrote down “green painted chest of drawers.” About 20 minutes later, I pasted a photo of the chest of drawers beside the words in the inventory. I noticed that it was blue, not green. After a consternated pause, I remembered that I had painted the chest blue a few years ago because I had some left over paint. It had been green. My mom and I fussed over whether or not to paint it green, she won, I hated it. I think that is how the story went. I know I hated the green.

The second thing that happened was more interesting. I remembered, but did not have a photo of a chest at the foot of the bed. In my mental march around the room, I could see how big it was by how many folds I had in the sheets. I see how deep it was because I could see how many layers of linens and old curtains were there. I know what the wood on the top looked like because I could see books on it that I had laid there for a friend who was coming to stay. I could see from the inside of the chest and the wood on the top that it was quite old, more than 100 years. I just cannot remember the chest.

I suppose this is how family stories come about. As we have sifted and dredged through our life because of the fire, I have discovered some stories are chronologically impossible. I did not set out to find details about the stories, or certainly not to disparage them. I was simply trying to get accurate dates on some of the family antiques. When I started sleuthing through the stories and trying to match dates and patterns and designs to antique auction and collection catalogs, I found facts that did not fit. Of course, this matters a lot when you are completing an insurance inventory.  If you are learning how be a person from the stories of the family, the meanings of the stories are far more important than fact checking.

Today I purchased a set of dishes that are replacement dishes for a great grandmother of mine. I had had them a couple of decades and we used them rarely because of their value in dollars and to the family. Still, we loved them. They are pretty and fare bursting with flowers. Not a man’s man plate, no steak and mashed potatoes on this one. A pretty slice of leg of lamb with mint jelly accompanied by fresh asparagus and strawberries fit these plates. The story of how they came to me, however, does not fit. If you trace back the story, you end up in the 1880s. If you look up the manufacture date of the dishes, you end up in the 1920s. So, what matter is 40 years? If you are the insurance company, perhaps it does matter. But, if you are family, the story that matters is of love the two people who had the dishes and the strength of the woman who owned and protected the dishes through the vicissitudes of life matter.

So the true part of the story is one of love and strength. The dishes came to us with that story. The replacement dishes now have that story. It is our family story. It is the story that carries across time as things are handed from one generation to the next. The facts of the story do not matter, the meaning of it does.

Thank you to luv-ur-seat on ebay for the next generation of the story of these dishes.