Artifacts in our Lives

So both Shauna Rae and Shawn Adamsson wrote pieces today that has me thinking, and dusting. In What Items of Quality Will You Leave Behind? Shauna asks some good questions that triggered some reflection and nostalgia on my part. In Death and Life Shawn has mixed feelings about losing a city institution but gaining a needed new one. That is life, the loss and gain, the destruction and renewal.

A common study trick is to plant a trigger for the memory to access. In some ancient memory techniques you build a house to place each idea, face, name et cetera in a room. Or in the case of the new Sherlock Holmes build a palace. A family heirloom is the same, it reminds us of the times we had with it, or the person who left it behind. Giving things to people that isn’t the mass produce consumerism engineered to fail stuff is a trigger to remember us.

In 1989 I lost both of my paternal Grandparents, something that still hurts. Aileen and Maurice Stephens were products of the Great Depression and families that knew a lot about hard times. They could make resources stretch, which is a good skill. Here is some gifts I still have from her handy work.

Grandma Stephens made these for me

Grandma Stephens made these for me

The Raggedy Andy was a lamp at one point, the kind that got hot and melted my Lego spaceship engine. Andy and the mug have been sitting on that dresser in the background since I can remember. Yes, I still have the same dresser I got when I was two, wish it was taller to hold more. I still wear that hat sometimes.

HeirloomsNot a very good picture but these are the things I had handy to dust. Grandma Stephens made the holly shaped dish and it was filled with humbugs every Christmas. It and the blue and white tea cup still have the labels Grandma wrote my name on to remind the family they were going to me. The wooden box and bowl hiding behind the teepee were made by Grandpa. The small book was Grandpa’s 1918 dictionary. The large green book and the teepee were actually my Great Grandpa’s. The old green steam trunk they’re sitting on was Grandma’s and is cedar lined so when I change clothes and bedding with the seasons the stuff coming out smells good. As for the broken Sherlock figure, in a thousand years I bet an archaeologist will be more thrilled to dig it up than another discarded iPhone.

I come from a family of packrats so I have lots of stuff from relatives I never met, other people’s relatives I never met and from institutions that haven’t been around for a century. Writing this and looking at these things is reminding me of old photos, past events, Grandma’s house with the old green carpet and yellow living room set. More importantly it reminds me of my Grandparents and how much fun we had. The reminders don’t have to come from expensive things, I have a paper wall hanging that reminds me of some men I used to volunteer with, a few were Veteran’s of World War II and I’m remembering the stories.

Buildings too remind us of the past, my Grandparents’ home stayed in the family. It has changed and evolved but it is still a wonderful home to visit. My favourite bookstore, City Lights,  is in an old building with suspect structure and mysterious charm. London’s Hacker Studios is in a century old building and one wall is brick and has part of a hand painted advertisement that predates the building. The city of Rome is built on the mediaeval city of Rome, which is built on the late Imperial city, which is built on the early Imperial city, which is built on the Republican cities which were built on the Etruscan village.

I’m named after the Great Grandfather who owned the teepee. Ed Noel moved to London in the early 1900s and opened a grocery store which ran until the bigger chain stores dominated things in the 1950s. I never met him but through a book on merchant law and a birch bark teepee I have something he held. I also have a coupe of mysteries; why did he need the law book and who made the birch bark teepee? Do the descendants of the teepee maker have other things the person made?

I kept a single page from Grandma Stephens tax forms for her business Noel’s Yarn, like Noel’s Grocery it is long gone but that reminds us businesses, like people can not live forever. The Yarn shop was on Bloor Street in Toronto and is now a Korean restaurant according to Google. The grocery store, sadly, is I think just a parking lot. Not exactly sure where it was on York Street.

With any object or building it is people who put meaning into it and people is the reason we have so much. The people who make them, build them, ship them, sell them, give them or receive them. Each person along the way must be remembered and appreciated. Because some artifacts can be reminders of how if events were different we might not be here.Applicant for Enlistment

This Grandpa Stephens Applicant for Enlistment pin. Had he been accepted for over seas service instead of being sent to London as a militia cook would he have met Grandma? He wasn’t going to Toronto on leave to visit his sisters but their room mate who had just packed her shop to do war work.



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