The Things You Live With

When you walk into someone’s house you see what it is they live with. What things matter enough to see every day, all day. Hopefully this person’s house is not a package setting such as “Rooms to Go” or a section of Ikea that looked like it should come home in boxes to be assembled to look like it was in the store. Hopefully the person whose home you enter has things that have stories. And the stories are why it still sits on the shelf, hangs on the wall, crowds the floor.

Thinking of how to pare down our belongings I decided to do a blog of details of the things around the house that I take for granted. These are vignettes of a much larger space. These are things that the cleaning lady swipes a duster over twice a month with no idea of why they are there.

The reason they are there is because of their story. They tell me the story over and over again each time I look at them. They sit next to other stories and make up new ones just by rubbing elbows with each other. I am spending more time with them and will take at least two blogs to cover the ones I photographed just today.

Above is the detail of a long painting/drawing on a wood panel that hangs on the wall between upper and lower cabinets. It is above where the liquor is kept below and the dinner plates above. On it is written some of the text from a poem I wrote about the “Position of Periphery.” Being on the edge of not belonging, not getting involved frees a person from expectations. I love this piece. Here is another end of the panel.

Carolina wrens perch along a stick that comes from the mouth of a Xian warrior. I got the idea from a picture I saw in art history classes of the first attempt to put sound into artwork. A small Asian monk had a stick from his mouth with birds perched on it….at least that is how I remember it…..the book is still here not fifteen feet from this but if I look it up to be sure, there is a chance that the story would have to change. I will leave them apart and stick to memory. The wooden bowls were turned by a local wood turner whose wife also turned bowls and had jazz performances in her studio on Saturday nights after her husband passed. One of them has a wine stopper my husband made that I keep handy to plug into red wines only. Just a small pat on the man’s head and the wine is sealed. The large clay vessel is a gift from a friend in the Art Group. Pouring wine from this jug is a performance…..and it takes two hands. I like how these things look together and when I see the wooden turned bowls move further away from the jug, I bring them back and let my fingers linger on their smooth surfaces and think of quiet old Knude and his wife Lissi.

Further down the same set of cabinets is another wooden panel painting with the sugar molds holding bees wax candles and waiting for the next holiday dinner party.

The other end of the same panel has the earth pigments from here as background for a Gaston Bachalard quote about childhood and the discovery of a nest. I think his book, Poetics of Space is my most favorite “art” book. In front are some cups that hold Turkish coffee in just the right proportion with a bit of cream. They were marriage ceremony cups made by a bride and groom who did not stay married. More pottery and a bowl turned by my husband that has dried weeds that a friend and I picked to decorate the Thanksgiving table maybe four years ago. And I still taste her contribution of shredded wheat rolls when I look at these dried up stems too fragile to dust.

The long trestle table my husband made sits along the length of those cabinets. It is made of wormy chestnut salvaged from an old building we bought in town years ago. The wooden bowl on the table sits on a Mexican tapa cloth given to me by the same guy who made the jug. The wooden bowl was carved by my father and husband when they first met fifty years ago. I filled it with these strange balls someone called “monkey balls” and burned driftwood from a friend in Australia and Aboriginal carvings of goannas. The bird with burned markings like the carvings was the perfect addition when I found him in a shop filled with clever things…a shop called Sugar Boo. I think I bought it the same day I saw a woman in there wheeling her therapy pig dressed like Sherlock Holmes around in a baby carriage. Other bits and pieces in the bowl make this such a magic place to dip your hands in and remember.

Just off the end of the dining table is a pair of book cases. On top of one sits an upended packing box that held Japanese tea bowls. Now it houses gum nuts and a sharks egg in one cubby, a beaded basket from Bali in another. But the best part is the little antler family I found in a museum shop in Vancouver. I saw just one in the case and fell in love with it. She said, “We have more”. I said, “Show me.” I stopped her after four. They were so hard not to keep together. They are a family. Those little carved faces with drilled eyes and mouth. Their arms and legs swinging on strands of sinew….all that and made by an Eskimo in northern Canada.  And next to this box is this.

There are three hens or chicks (not sure which) in a soap dish from Africa. They are watched over by this wonderful stoneware bird….a bird with a smile on its face. I like this kind of pottery. The marks of the hand are all over it. The stoppered piece behind the big bird is made by an Japanese potter living and working in Asheville…..a gift from a friend. The three chicks were made by an older woman in Penland. She took a class I taught there and this was a way of bringing her home. I love how she pressed shells into the clay to look like wings.

Over on the other book case sits a collection of Indonesian bottles made from wood and horn. Very intricate designs. The head for the one has been knocked off again and is likely lodged between the book case and the wall. We put them in bamboo cups when they tip over too frequently and now it seems they belong there. A wooden Balinese mask hangs on the wall and a complex weave snuff basket stays close to these figures. A small basket made by a friend in Australia hangs off a branch. All of these things feel good in the hand and bring back the stories of being in Bali with friends from Australia. They stay away from the Eskimo family….like two different tribes that have only me in common.

More dried things are on the wall just past the window by the bookcases. They are from our lotus plants in the water garden outside the front door and are stuffed into a piece of bamboo brought home from Japan. There is an African doll and a Peruvian doll hung between two forks bought in a shop on my first trip to teach in Australia. It was a wonderful big old place in Mittigong. The basket I bought to use for serving crackers, but like most things took on a preciousness because of where it came from.

I will do another blog another day…..there are so many more pictures of things that I live with in this large room of kitchen, dining and living space.

Now I am getting ready for company and the eclipse tomorrow.  And during the past two weeks Sadie and I are still working on the shawl.