A few days ago I reblogged “A Finial Moment” – a post from Stuart M. Perkins which I’d really enjoyed. If you haven’t read it, do! He describes getting back in touch with his old memories through the physical presence of an object from the past –
in this case a brass finial from the top of an old standard lamp which was once the focal point of the family sitting room in his childhood. He kept the finial when the lamp was eventually thrown away, as a reminder of happy times with his parents, evenings spent reading or talking together under the light of the lamp.
I love it when I automatically get what a writer is talking about. Stuart M. Perkins could have been describing exactly how I feel about certain treasured objects I’ve acquired over the years – the very kitsch 1980’s bottle of perfume shaped like a deer which my favourite teacher gave me as a prize for good work, the wooden dolls house my grandfather made, the necklace I chose on holiday in Spain with my Mum which I wore on my wedding day … being able to touch these items, to hold them in my hands and just remember, puts me back in touch with my past in a very real way, much more so than looking at an old photo.
It’s interesting though, that Stuart uses a finial of all things to symbolise the nostalgia he feels. Because if you extend the metaphor just a little bit further, you realise that the thing about finials is that you only need one of them at the end of a pole. Too many finials would be totally unnecessary. And I’m starting to wonder lately if there are too many finials in my life.
I suspect a lot of parents feel like this after Christmas – slightly overwhelmed by all the new toys you have to cram into the toy storage boxes and cupboards that already seemed pretty full before the holiday season. There just seems to be an inordinate amount of stuff in my house, and pretty much every item has such a strong sentimental value to one or other of us that it can’t possibly be thrown away. I have tried for years to set a good example to my children, giving old clothes to the charity shop and such like, but as I get older it’s becoming harder to part with things that were once given as gifts – especially if the giver is no longer with us. And unfortunately it’s this example my children have picked up on, not the years of me carefully sticking to a “one in, one out” policy on clothes, handbags, etc. So every time I try to rehome an outgrown item of clothing/ broken toy/ unrecognisable piece of kiddie artwork from several years ago, I’m met with howls of “But it’s MINE! I NEEEEEED it!”. So it goes in one of the ever increasing number of memory boxes in the attic. Result: we are in danger of being swamped by finials (now there’s an image).
Where does this urge to horde material possessions come from? For those of us who, like me, are not from particularly well-off backgrounds, treasuring family heirlooms is a tradition that can only go back a generation or two at the most. My grandparents lived with their three children in a one room attic until they were rehoused to a brand new council house after the second world war. They must have moved in with virtually nothing, in comparison to the amount of possessions we take for granted these days. In fact, when I think about their house, I don’t remember anything which had been passed down from great grandparents – everything was either hand made or newly bought by them in the fifties, sixties and seventies. I imagine that every single item – every pot, pan, and piece of furniture – must have felt like a step on the journey away from the hardships of that one room attic towards a more comfortable, secure life. And yet they were never materialistic. The cardinal rule when I was growing up was “don’t buy Nanny any ornaments for Christmas – she says she’s got enough already”. The few china shepherdesses and my grandad’s wooden carvings which adorned the mantlepiece and the dresser were quite enough – there was no need to add any more. I wonder what they would think of my cluttered house, and my children’s ridiculous quantities of toys? And what would they think of my need to remember them by holding on to things which they had once owned, when presumably they managed to remember their own parents and grandparents perfectly well without any physical reminders?
So, as much as I enjoyed Stuart’s “Finial Moment”, for me the jury’s out. Treasured possessions are all well and good, but in today’s consumer society it’s all too easy to get carried away. How do we avoid picking up too many finials along the way?