Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What a Concept

My family has always had this thing - I'm sure we're not the only ones, but I do think it's especially prevalent in people who survived the Depression and saved things - but we have a problem using things. Not just getting rid of things, but actually using what we have.

I've always known this. My Aunt Margaret's funeral box was a running joke. Every holiday when she got something particularly nice, she would unfold it, smile, and put it in the box to be worn at her funeral. See, it was too good to use.

What is that? Who are you, if you're not good enough to use the things other people buy for you? Or the things you've bought for yourself.

And who got the last laugh? When Aunt Margaret died a few years ago, age 99 years and 6 months, her daughter pulled the box out of the closet. Every last garment in it had disentegrated with age.

I'm 43 now, and over the last few years have become the recipient of the household treasures of a generation of women: my mom, my Aunt Margaret, my Aunt Violet, and my Aunt Betty, who's still alive but beginning the process of cleaning out. I had enough stuff of my own, but I can't turn down potential new good stuff, especially since most of it is pristine.

Boxes of linens, most with stories attached. "Billy brought that back when he was stationed in Japan after the War." That's WWII, mind you, and the tablecloth and its accompanying napkins still have packing creases. There are scores of hand-tatted doilies; acres of tablecloths, solid, damask and embroidered, plus some kitschy 50s ones; enough cloth napkins to diaper a flotilla of babies; dresser scarves embroidered with southern belles, scottie dogs, poodles, kittens; pillow cases with enough french knots to induce insomnia.

What were they saving it for? Not me - I just got lucky.

And now that it's mine, all mine, I have to face the urge to put it aside and wear/use/sew with something less good. Again, why? Why can't I use the tablecloth on my dining room table and let it get covered in cat hair? Is that any less ignominious an end than dry rot?

There's a whole set of embroidered napkins with a matching table runner that is just crying out to become a blouse. I can see how it will look. I can feel how smoothly that old cotton will sew, and how soft it will be to wear. So why is it so hard to cut into it?

I will not be my mother. I will not be my aunt, grandmom, great-aunt. I may be a packrat, but I'm going to wear some of my clutter, dammit. One of these days I'll post that blouse, and every time I wear it I'll think of all those women, and the pleasure they missed out on, thinking that their things were better than they were.


Kat said...

I loved your post, Karen. Yes, use it now! Too good to wear? Not for us :) !

Gretchen the Household Deity said...

ooooh, I don't think I ever responded with a yes please to your email, but yes please. I actually bought some linens in Greece with the idea of sewing with them. I got them home and was sort of waffling over whether it was "ok" to destroy them for sewing. I like your philosophy.