More Than Just a Teapot: The items that connect past and present

The acorn necklace my sister, Jessie, gave me the Christmas after my mom died is in this twisted, tangled mess of silver chains and baubles.  It’s the same kind of necklace my mother wore when she was sick. At that time she told us that the acorn stood for strength, but acorns had been special to her long before she identified with their symbolism. I remember acorn ornaments hanging on the Christmas tree and stories of how my dad used to collect acorns and bring them to my mother when they were dating. To be honest I don’t personally understand the fascination, but because they were special to my mother, they are special to me.

One would hardly assume I cared about this messy nest of jewelry. They certainly wouldn’t assume that every once in a while, when I need a dose of strength or sentimentality, I untangle one particular necklace and wear it close to my heart.

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This is the “Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her” book my mother gave me when I moved away from home for the first time.  The title of this book didn’t seem quite as taunting when she gave it to me.  The tattered book is usually found stacked up with cookbooks containing vegetarian recipes, tips on clean eating, and ready made meals.  Anyone who noticed this book in my collection might wonder why I continue to hold onto such a relic, but my mother gave it to me and so I can’t part with it.

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In fact tucked in between the pages of this guide to “surviving away from home” are several folded up sheets of yellow ledger paper, the kind my mother was famous for writing on. These delicate pages contain the recipes of some of my mother’s favorite recipes, most of which I have memorized  (“Blushing Bunny” = tomato soup + Velveta + milk; Egg salad = eggs + mustard + Miracle Whip + celery + vinegar + a pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar). Still, every so often I pull the pages out to look at her writing and think “She wrote these words down for me.”

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Here is the vacuum cleaner my mother bought me the last Christmas we spent together. My husband has had to fix it a number of times and I’m told that they’ve made many advancements in vacuum cleaner technology, but my mother swore by the Oreck and 10 years later it’s still chugging along.

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Here is my china cabinet, with treasures that span several generations. I inherited many of these items after my family sold my grandmother’s house in 2010. Her house always had a certain elegance and enchantment and so did many of her belongings. Now makes me smile to see so many of her things mixed in among my own wedding china and other trinkets.

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I only wish that my grandmother were here to tell my daughters about the history of these objects.  Who did she have tea with and who did she dine with?PicMonkey Collage1IMG_2153

An object’s history is unknown to most who see it, to them the item they are looking at is just a book or just a plate, just a necklace or just a piece of furniture.  But to the owner of the treasure, and to those who understand its context and life story, these items are the threads, glue, and nails that bind the past to the present.  They are silent connections, tributes, and reminders that blend our loved one’s past lives with our own life in the present. Like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit, they are made real, alive, or spiritual because someone who matters (to you or to many) looked upon them, touched them, created them, or treasured them.

Most people have at least one thing they remember their close loved ones by, whether that person died at the age of 85 or one week.  These items may be small trinkets, antique treasures, old notes, oddities, or worn down vacuum cleaners. Litsa and I would really love to know more about your objects and the stories behind them.  In the spirit of normalizing and sharing through photographs and stories, and because we find the life stories of objects to be simply fascinating, we’re asking for people to share a photograph of their object and the story behind it.  We’re simply interested in starting a dialogue about objects, however if enough people share we may follow up to request permission to compile the objects into a larger project to help inspire, educate, and support others. You can share on Facebook, Instagram, or by emailing [email protected]

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March 28, 2017

7 responses on "More Than Just a Teapot: The items that connect past and present"

  1. Hi John. I believe It is never too long to wait before we move someones belongings, we need those items around until we are ready for them to be gone..time is the only gauge of this perhaps the washing could be dealt with but the rest of the things we see around us the clothing the possessions they were also part of your everyday life and if we move them when we are not ready we simply make a bigger gap. It is not like people say ‘holding onto things is unhealthy’ NO boxing someones life-part of your life -up before you are finished looking at it is unhealthy. I have lost 3 of my children at young ages and survived very well and healthily and have learned this.. Take your time in all that you do as this is your grief and there are no rules you should follow 🙂 I totally love your idea of the sun catchers. My son of course didn’t have ample jewellery but you have given me an idea, to make a sun catcher or mobile with his treasures.Take care

  2. I may be too new to this to give it proper perspective, I lost my wife seventeen weeks ago today. The nights are long and lonely once our youngest is put to bed. I have made a set of sun catchers incorporating some of her jewellery, five of them so far follow a theme, one to hang in a yew tree near her, one for home, her mum’s home and one for her mum’s car, and one for a very close friend. Aside from that, all her clothes and things are where she left them, even her laundry. I can’t bare to move them, like I want her to come and deal with it herself. Everything becomes sacred, even to her favourite spot on the sofa.

  3. My pokadot teapot from Edinburgh.
    My boys and I would always have a pot of tea, odd in itself for staunch teenage boys to do but a routine never the less, and we would sit and talk with no TV or anything on, just interact and share the time. A couple of one sons teenage friends (only those he treasured that would not laugh at the ‘feminine’ ritual) would sit and have a pot of tea with us also. I remember vividly my 16year old coming in the door one day and saying “I need a pot of tea” the other teenager jumped up turned the TV off and started setting up the tea tray which was made by one son at woodwork, with cups and saucers milk jug etc. The boys had taken it on as a way to debrief bring up any issues from the day in a calm open forum…what a treasure we had stumbled upon. I went overseas working with a Tetraplegic we were travelling light and my only desire was to buy a lovely large teapot while away on my travels. I looked in Antique shops flea markets and op shops but nothing attracted me.
    When in Scotland I saw a large black teapot with white pokadots. Awesome. The rest of my journey was geared around ensuring I had enough room on carryon luggage to ensure I got this teapot home without damage- along with an antique strainer I had purchased. My 17year old boy died 3 years ago but this ritual we had will be remembered always. So if you have a ritual no matter how silly you think it is, see if you are able to fit a specifically selected item into the ritual so your family can look at it in later years and say “I remember when…”

  4. I like the idea of having a special wooden chest to keep all my particular memorabilia in. That way I can keep my letters in there that I wrote to her also. It becomes a sacred place for me where I know I can always open the chest and reconnect and refeel the memories.

  5. Am looking forward to reading the full article.Thank-you so much for this article.It really strikes a cord with me and I am sure with so many people.I lost my mother almost 2 years ago.She was 91 so was not a tradgedy but she was told she had 2 to 3 months to live from cancer so was not the best way.I wish she had just passed in her sleep but ofcourse we do not get to choose the way we pass.I am having trouble to give away anything that was tied to my mother or in her apartment.Some items are especially sentimental so am trying to see with time what I value the most.It can be something very small like a playbill from a musical we attended together to her clothes which I remember shopping for together or we got a real good deal on at Bay Day,(a monthly sale for seniors).Her jewellery I am keeping in a safe place to go through later.I have 2 brothers who were also very close to my mother but I find one can get rid of items much more easily than Iand the other is a bit like me but not as much.I know I should donate all or alot of her clothes but am not able to yet and they really bring me comfort as I feel closer to her when seeing them.I have always been quite sentimental but do not want to end up with everyone not understanding why I am not ready to part with items.I do see a therapist so will discuss this with her further but for not I just feel good to keep what I can and was very happy for my brothers to keep any items as well.We did agree to take some large items,a desk she used always to value village and a microwave shelf.Better finish this up but the most precious are her and her mothers wedding rings and some cat knick knacks I keep on my bedside table,also a few jackets she wore that I can wear as well.Will look forward to reading how others respond and your other articles.It is really nice to have your site to express my feelings as I cannot talk with my brothers too much as we grieve differently which is OK but I am definately still more emotional.

    • Hi DJ, I can feel your love for your mother in your words above. In my opinion, it’s really not a problem to hang onto your loved one’s things when they are gone. I agree with you that we grieve differently, some like to talk a lot, write a lot, cry, walk, be quiet, and I think some need to have physical objects. Or a mixture of these things. 🙂

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