Passing on Old Memories to Make New Ones

It has become my tradition to look for overlooked and seemingly insignificant items while going to garage and estate sales, antique shops, and flea markets. Often, I find things in the second or third bin choices, which are given next to no monetary value, and are different from what bargain hunters look for. I do not look for bargains. I look for significance. Something handmade, crafted, photographed, written, and lovingly preserved represents a moment in time – for the person who did it, was given it, or kept it; an item that has no attachment or bears no interest or desire to be held by those close to them. Maybe my search and interest are sparked by how we spent our childhood years. Our clothes and accessories were largely hand-me-downs or acquired by trading, seldom new. My mother was a child at the end of World War II, and she continued a thrifty way of living based on opportunity and gratitude.

Often acquaintances, friends, neighbors, and those who hear about my interest in preserving and giving value to any item that becomes “orphaned,” in a sense, will send me or drop off such things at my doorstep; or share knowledge of upcoming sales in odd places. During the last few years, I have gone to a limited number of such deals, mainly due to the pandemic and a self-imposed restraint (there is only so much space I can fill). Some of the items I find or am given I repurpose creatively or restore to their former glory with minor effort: a laundering here, a mending and ironing there, maybe a sensible paint job, or making minor repairs of all kinds. Some I keep, and some continue their adventure to charity organizations, women’s shelters, or anyone who may appreciate the odd item. There are various reasons why people choose to keep something or not, and I never question them – not for me to do. I give those items a new home, whether temporary or permanent.

Everything tells a story: from small boxes, handwritten letters, handkerchiefs, sewing thread and needles, worn boots, crochet, and knit items (often needing repair or tender loving care) to interesting photographs, lone teacups and saucers, and leatherwork – to mention a few. Whatever it may be, I always cherish it and respect it as a moment in or remnant of someone’s life. A year ago, I was given a quilted blanket that belonged to the mother of one of my wife’s coworkers – who passed suddenly though not unexpectedly. He considered me the best recipient of that blanket, someone who could and would appreciate it. I was grateful for it and honored that he chose me. Her blanket is still with us and will not soon go anywhere. It is a spiderweb quilt worked in prairie points. I can only imagine the hours and love that went into it.

Each item invites reflection and wonder. Whenever possible, I try to find out whom it belonged to, how it came to be, what it was for, and its story. My imagination tries to fill in the rest to give that item extra character or a new life. Sometimes I combine many things, and they become something entirely new without losing their age (a piece of fabric used as a colorful mend on jeans, a crocheted edge sewn on a plain odd pillow to make it stand out, shells, and stones that form portraits and landscapes in the garden, old photos that are turned into book covers, etc.). I have not run out of ideas and ways and do not think I ever will. It is gratifying and whimsical to care for or recycle such items and see them come to life again, acquiring a new meaning without losing their original.

As I wrote in a previous post, I have many boxes to go through in the attic and put some order in the organized chaos. The extraordinary heat I thought would hold off for a while longer came upon us faster than expected and has once more delayed that project. Many of those collected smaller items are crying for attention up there, and I feel guilty for not giving them any for quite a while. I may swap days for nights in the upcoming weeks, brave the superhot attic, retrieve a few boxes at a time, and then return to the blessing of air conditioning and tackling them with due diligence. I cannot wait to see what I can cobble together and rediscover what awaits a moment of tender loving care. My memory is losing a beat or two as time passes, yet I see it as an opportunity to find “hidden” treasures: not forgotten, waiting to be dug up again.