There’s an old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” As I look around our home, many people would say most of our things fall into the junk category, and that would probably be true, if it weren’t for the stories behind them.
There’s a plant in the corner of our deck that we’ve had as long as we’ve been married. Jilda’s mom gave it to her, but her mom got it from Jilda’s grandmother Mammie. It’s called a bleeding heart and it’s as white as fine porcelain with what looks like a red tongue sticking out from the center.
Through the years, we’ve tended that flower like a baby cutting teeth. I’d give anything to hear Mammie tell how she got the plant, but we never asked, and she never said. And now it’s too late.
A few years ago, I interviewed an octogenarian from Mountain Brook. Her house was old and unremarkable on the outside, but inside it was filled with treasure. Everywhere I looked were photographs, books, and paintings that looked very old.
She brewed some hot mint tea to sip during the interview. As we drank from antique china cups, I asked her about a figurine on her coffee table. The little mummy was the size of a Cracker Jack toy. It looked like it had been carved from bone. “Oh this,” she said picking up the piece. My father gave it to me many years ago.” She went on to explain that one of her father’s clients got the figurine out of a pyramid during an expedition to Egypt in the 1920s.
When this lady passes on, her things will likely be thrown into a bin and sold as junk at a yard sale and the stories lost forever.
Jilda and I will be in the same boat someday. When I look around my office, there are so many things with interesting stories.
The pencil holder on Jilda’s writing desk for example. It’s a small cedar cup with eight sides. But on each side are tiny hand-carved pieces of different woods that form an intricate design. A friend of ours who is a filmmaker picked the pencil holder up at a open-air market while shooting a documentary of the Syrian peace talks back in the 1980s.
Wouldn’t that be a cool invention? The ability to put a chip into the things we love that could tell their story after we’re gone.
The bowl on our coffee table might tell this story:
I am a bowl, carved from the stump of an Irish Ash tree by Dominique Madden. The Irishman pulled me from a fireplace one night while performing with Rick and Jilda at Characters Pub in Tullamore, Ireland. Dominique stomped out the fire with his boot and then he told Jilda, “I’ll make you something out of this.”
He turned me on a wood lathe and polished me until I glowed like glass. A few months later, he mailed me to the Watsons with a poem he’d written entitled “Bowl with a hole.” I’ve been a candy dish on their coffee table since 1999.
When we are gone, the relatives left will sort through our things and wonder why this odd assortment of things meant enough to us to keep. They won’t know what’s junk and what’s treasure because they won’t know the stories, and it’s the stories that make things valuable.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Happens is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org