Where Moth and Rust Corrupt

I grew up seeing this model of the Cutty Sark around my granmother's house. When I asked my dad about it earlier this week, he told me he had bought it for his mom when he was about 10 (because moms obviously love model ships like everyone else does).

A month or two ago, I blew a large portion of the Anthropologie gift card I got from my mom for my birthday on interior decorating books.  You need clothes, I told myself, yet I looked around and couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy, especially not for that money.  At the same time, I sat down on their sofa with several design books, and was so utterly happy for 30 minutes looking at them.  These are not the real thing.  Why pay $70 for books about décor when you could invest $70 in actual décor?

I bought the books.

A huge Webster's dictionary that has been in my family forever. I found an inscription dated 1949 for a law firm my grandfather used to work for, probably a cast-off. I like the illustrations on this particular page: a bird called a motot, a motorcycle, an architectural feature called a moucharabie, a mouflon (shown here), and a serpent mound.

Among them was etc. by Sibella Court, and even more than the other two, this got my creative juices flowing. I love that she doesn’t just offer tips and photos; she gives lists like “Skills Sailors Have, Other than Sailing” and prints them on vellum with typewriter font, and ah…

Certainly, the book gave me ideas, but it did more.  It made me start taking pleasure in the shape and texture of little things around me that I already own, common things, old things, functional things.  Like some small wooden bowls given to us by some friends from Argentina, books whose covers I really love, the patterned, tarnished metal of a nutcracker my grandmother found at a garage sale, seashells she gathered and wrapped in brown and peach paisley napkins, vintage Avon jewelry.

A cigar box filled with giant snail shells Mustard Seed found behind the house. I boiled them.

One thing I began to think about is the beauty of things given or inherited.  When I go out to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (which I also like just fine), I may find something pretty, but when someone gives me something or I inherit it, even if it’s not exactly my style, it becomes a link between me and that person, that time, that set of circumstances.  I have a beaded headband that I refuse to throw away because my grandmother saw it at the beauty parlor and knew it would be perfect for her granddaughter. “She’s in college now and has her own job” she would tell the hair dresser.

A painted jewelry box my mom got me while working in Mexico City. I could have bought myself a jewelry box.  Wouldn’t have been the same.

A small coin purse from the bank that my grandfather gave Mustard Seed when she was a baby.

My book basket with a little knitting. All our bookshelves are upstairs, but if I put my current book on the shelf, I'll forget about it. This basket keeps them organized and in view.

I have not got my house all decorated.  There is a delicate balance to be sought between being swallowed alive by old stuff bequeathed to you and honoring your relationships with loved ones through cherished things that link you to them with physical reminders.

My collection of wooden boxes and an incense holder. Three were a Christmas gift from an old friend, who filled them with frankincense, myrrh, and something gold.

Then, too, I am my own person making her small little mark on the world, as are my husband and my daughter, who live here as well, and our interests and experiences are equally important.  A home can’t be only a museum. If one’s possessions are to reflect the collection of moments in time and space where you and your family have found yourself, there has to be room for the present moment, for your current obsession with sea glass and record albums and the vase you picked up at Tuesday Morning with your husband the day you had that long talk or first moved to a new city.  Some of the pictures here are that kind of thing for me.

One is lined in blue felt and holds old half dollars. Another used to hold my essential oils, but they leaked. Now the inside smells of a strong, woodsy mix of cypress, patchouli, and vetiver.

These things are not the links themselves.  They are so much paper crumbling and yellowing year by year.  The door can be opened with many keys, I know, and must one day be opened without these keys.  I must put my treasure in a safe place, a lasting place, but while they last, these keys, like any tool, serve a purpose and aren’t to be thrown away lightly.


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