What precious possessions would you choose to take with you if you had to flee a house fire?
My mother was a child of the 1930’s Depression. Later, as an adult, she lost everything in a house fire except the clothes she was wearing at the time. Perhaps not surprisingly, possessions became terribly important to her. When she died, I found cupboards stacked with shoes and clothes, linen and crockery, far more than any one person could need.
As a result of her hoarding, I am the opposite. I would give anything away. So it’s gone? So what? Did I really need it?
(…though if you’re the person who borrowed my DVD of the Russian movie, ‘The Admiral’, could you please return it!)
The other day, as I stood at the kitchen bench making a sandwich for lunch, I tried to decide what possessions I truly vaued? What would I snatch if I had to escape my own house fire?
Photograph albums? Probably not. I travelled around Europe for three months in the eighties taking photographs with my little Cannon camera only to arrive home and discover the battery had been flat the whole time and I had 23 roles of blank film!
And yet that trip through France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece is still as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. The fountain at Saint Michel as I stepped out of the Paris Metro for the first time. The frosty Spring mornings, the flower markets. In Venice the convent with the frescoed ceiling and walls where I stayed for $5.00 a night. The man I met in Florence. Cruising the Cycladic Islands.
My memory is better than any photographs preserved in an album.
No point saving my computer. These days everything is stored in the clouds. Passport? Birth certificates? All replaceable. My library of books? Which would I choose? And would I have time? No, they’re replaceable too.
For a moment I considered this icon. My husband and I found it in Poland, although it originally came from Ukraine and dates back to the late 1800’s. It inspires lovely memories of searching through shops in the backstreets of Krakow, but I quickly decided it would not break my heart if I had to live without it.
Then my eyes came to rest on this painting. Yes, I thought, that’s what I’d take, that is precious to me!
It’s not the monetary value of the painting–in fact it cost barely $20.00 in a shop not far from the Cathedral in Wroclaw that it depicts. While staying with my sister-in-law, Sophie, I expressed a desire to hear the choir at St John the Baptist Cathedral. After we left the church, it began to rain and I slipped on the cobblestones. And that tiny experience became a poem that I’ve taped to the back of the painting.
So it’s not the object itself that’s important but the memory evoked by the object? It’s people we need, not possessions. Perhaps I’ve been too hard on my mother. Perhaps each of her possessions held special memories for her too. I hope they did.