Putting away the last of the Christmas decorations and cleaning up rooms where Christmas was mostly spent, I found myself doing today what usually happens at this time of the year. I ended up making more work for myself by turning out drawers and cupboards in order to both discard unwanted items but also make room for things I do now want to keep. Today I took on the drawers from a particular desk, including all the little 'hidey- hole' ones and the (not so) secret compartments into which all sorts of garbage had been stuffed over the years. How come I have not tackled this before? Well, there are certain items that look insignificant but that hold great power, and it is only now that enough time has passed after which some of them can be contemplated, decided upon, kept or discarded. I suspect you all know what I mean.
For instance, how the flood of memories surges forth from a tattered 1999 'Hawkins' mail-order catalogue, from which the boy's Christmas stockings were always filled with a marvellous miscellany of gadgetry, wizardry and silliness; and here is a drawer full of the board games over which we have shouted with enthusiasm and hooted with laughter through many Christmas nights. There, just a single page from a letter from Mother in Law, requiring - nay, demanding - that some particular attention should be paid to a particularly unwanted task (leaving her voice reverberating in my ear, even though I have not heard it in actuality for several years now and her mortal remains were laid to rest months ago. Not so the remains of her imperious voice, which will, I am sure, reverberate down the ages!)
There's the fascinatingly antiquated little calculator used by the boys in school - only a couple of decades old, already consigned to history, but conjuring up so many memories of homework tussles between us. Less welcome, and certainly less amusing, the dark power of an insignificant little penknife, powerfully eliciting unhappy but very real memories. They are all part of our stories - they are all part of us.
On first opening the drawer, all I saw was, quite frankly, a pile of junk to be discarded, but as I sifted through, the items prompted the stories and the stories are what I call the *REAL* Family Treasure - the strung-together Pearls of Memory. For each of us, these unique combinations of memories are treasures which can never be repeated, never be replaced. All the material items bring to life stories, and stories in turn give substance to people and events. Recalling our stories, Re-membering ourselves with both our own stories and with those of others who interlace them, binds us all together in the ongoing community of the living and the passed. Our stories remind us of who we are and help us decide who we want to be.
For some wonderful examples - and a fascinating read - of over 30 essays on how 'things make people' as much as people make things, I highly recommend one of the books on my Christmas list (which turned up in my Christmas stocking!) 'Evocative Objects - Things we think with', edited and with an Introduction by Sherry Turkle, ( MIT Press, 2011 (paperback)). Could 2013 be a year when some of you start to note down fragments of your own stories? Why not turn out just a small drawer to start the ball rolling? Yes - it's OK to start and stop the clean-out in order to note down your memories, and one thing I promise you - you will ALL find at least one item of treasure when you thought there was only junk. And when you come across that Evocative Object - why not come back here and tell me the story?
(Speaking of stories… We had our monthly supervision meeting last night at the local branch of the national bereavement charity for which I do voluntary bereavement support. My supervisor there has just been bereaved of his own dear father, at the grand age of 95. This is the fact - but he then recounted how his Dad was actually one of the last people to remember meeting Beatrix Potter, as he had worked for her husband, Mr. Heelis - and is mentioned by name in one scene of the film 'Miss Potter' - listen out for 'George' to be thanked for bringing the documents, as she signs the deeds for one of her farms. Now that's what I call a story - I hope J has jotted it down!)