Sunday, October 05, 2008

Everything old is new again

Ever since my grandfather passed away in February, the family has struggled with getting his affairs in order. After moving Grandma into an assisted-living community (she's loving it there, by the way), they switched their energies to dividing up the possessions he left behind. And seeing as how it's October and the job isn't close to being finished, you can probably guess that there was quite a bit to sort through. Truth is, Grandpa and Grandma lived in the same house for more than fifty years, and in that time one can accrue a whole lot of stuff.

It was sort of strange visiting the old house on Saturday for the first time since Grandpa passed away. All of the curtains were drawn, and the furniture was in unfamiliar places. All the personality and character of five decades' worth of living there had been drained from the place. It was no longer Grandma and Grandpa's home, simply another old house.

My Dad, who was with me at the time, asked me if I might be interested in taking any mementos of Grandpa. A few months ago, he got two of Grandpa's old candy dishes that were a fond memory of my youthful visits to his home. This time, I took an old fedora of his that he once wore to work, from back when men still did such things. What I found interesting about this hat wasn't simply that it once belonged to him- though that's certainly part of it. I also liked that it was an honest-to-goodness remnant of the past, rather than simply a bit of retro nostalgia that someone like Justin Timberlake might wear onstage. I've long been interested in the difference between vintage and retro, and I'd say this fedora falls comfortably in the former category. Hell, when I showed it to my mom, she immediately responded, "that looks like an old man's hat." But that's what I liked about it, that it belongs resolutely to the past.

As I was leaving the house, I noticed an old rotary telephone sitting on top of a chest. Naturally, this piqued my curiosity, and when closer inspection revealed not only an old-school phone jack (the wires had to be screwed into the wall) but also a label with the antiquated letter-prefix of "JEfferson-5", I knew I had to take it home with me. The old-fashioned style of phone prefixes has intrigued me for years, perhaps because it fell out of use before I was born but was still in effect during my parents' lifetimes, which makes it both alien and somehow familiar to me in a comforting way.

Now, I don't anticipate that I'll use the old telephone- which is even heavier than I'd remembered- in the way it was designed, but I'm sure I'll find a place for it in my home, just like the fedora will find its logical new place in my wardrobe. The candy bowls might hold candy again, or maybe something else entirely. The house will eventually be cleared out, cleaned, and sold to someone completely new. And Grandma, miles removed from where she was less than a year ago, is as happy as she's been in years. Life moves forward, with or without us.


Michael said...

I know the feeling. I was cleaning out my father's apartment a year and a half ago and took a few vintage mementos of his. He wore his father's '50s blazers in the '70s and I decided to take them all, which I wear now. It's kind of rough going through someone else's stuff, even if that person is related to you, but there's something oddly pleasurable about continuing on a trait or an old fashioned way with these vintage things.

Adam Villani said...

My grandparents really like their assisted-living facility, too, after much initial resistance.