ZOOMERS: Pieces of the past tell story

The history of objects or possessions is about storytelling or the story of legacy.

A nice-looking man of 85 appears before me on my television set.

There is a trace of sadness in his voice, as he tells us his treasured Apollo bicycle has been stolen out of his locked garage.

This was the same bicycle he rode across Canada 30 years ago to have coffee with his daughter in Ontario, now deceased.

And therein lies the story.

The story is not about the stolen bicycle, which will now be fenced for a junkie’s fix. It is not that the bike was old or irreplaceable or worth a lot of money.

It is about the story this object represents – the story of his relationship with his beloved daughter.

No one can possibly take that away from him.

For the history of objects or possessions is about storytelling or the story of legacy.

In the book, The Hare with Amber Eyes, author Edmund de Waal says “there is no easy story in legacy… stories and objects share something, a patina.”

As he traces his family history through his inherited collection of Japanese netsuke (carved button-like ornaments formerly worn to suspend articles from the sash of a kimono), we follow his narrative trail that originates in Japan, to the belle époque of Paris, through two World Wars in Vienna and finally back to Japan.

The tiny objects represent the tumultuous story of his Jewish family, who start off with nothing, rise to riches and prominence and finally, end up with nothing materially or financially. Throughout the turmoil of Nazi-occupied Vienna, in the most precarious of situations, the beloved netsuke survive to tell a story of love and the resilience of the human spirit.

In our modern Western culture – which is obsessed by the procurement of material possessions – the story is often overlooked or ignored, if in fact there is a story at all.

That is why I have spent years collecting antique glass. I am in awe of the duality of its existence; fragile yet resilient. Much like humans.

I was given a pair of 18th-century Georgian spirit bottles by my English uncle. They are in perfect condition, save for the wear on their gilded shoulders. As I gaze at them, I wonder whose hands held them. Perhaps a duke or even a king? Did the servant handle them with care or with indifference? What kind of alcohol-fueled conversations were overheard by these flasks as they sat idly on the sideboard?

I’ll never know, but I am sure the their history could fill a library.

On the opposite side of my mantle sits my antique Venetian goblet, which is at least two centuries old. Its opaque, milky veneer is interlaced with indelible dirt, which no amount of cleaning can erase.

Not that I wish the patina to be erased, as therein lies the story of this beautiful object.

I am convinced it touched the currant-stained lips of a voluptuous courtesan as she flirted with yet another one of her paramours. To think that it survived the frivolity of yet another moonlit evening on the Grand Canal in Venice.

As Zoomers – longing to rid ourselves of our weighty possessions to “gain a space in which to live” – let us not view them as merely objects with a price tag attached to them but rather a rich, story-filled tapestry of lives lived, which ultimately gives meaning to our own.

I am confident there is an elderly man out there, recently reunited with his cherished bike, who might agree.

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