Anyone who spends more than 5 minutes in our house becomes aware of my passion for vintage things. From sepia-toned ancestral family portraits hanging in the den to the 1910 Singer sewing machine in the entryway hall to the refinished dining room furniture purchased with Grandmother’s first Social Security check, I feel a comfort, a link with the past.
My favorite kitchen spatula was rescued from my husband’s grandfather’s old farmhouse in Comanche, Texas; the red and yellow wooden handle still strong and sturdy with the faint imprint of a round sausage patty etched perfectly into the metal. Each time I use it, the same mental tableau lurks in my conscious; a pre-dawn fall morning in their tiny ing in an iron skillet, coffee perking and bubbling up into the little glass dome of a stove-top aluminum pot, and the voice of the local weatherman crackling over the radio predicting rain later in the day. This “remembering” of things is more likely a creation of my imagination than real events, but the odd little utensil connects me to the past in a way that is both physical and ethereal.
This old black telephone is another treasure; the particular noise of a telephone dial, its unique clicking and whirling is a sound my children would fail to identify in these digital days of mp3 files and electronic ringtones.
I often wish I could pick up the receiver and dial into the past, hearing the voices and conversations of long-passed loved ones come mysteriously through the frayed and cut wires. Holding the heavy receiver, I speak into the mouthpiece, only to hear my own voice echo back at me, a hollow dusty sound.
A few months ago my daughter’s truck was grazed lengthwise while parked curbside in front of our house. An elderly neighbor lady veered too close and welded the copper paint of the truck into the glossy white paint of her car. Frail and bent, she climbed the hill to our front door intent on doing the right thing by reporting the mishap. She was very flustered and out of breath as my daughter ushered her into the hallway, but seemed okay otherwise – nothing broken or bleeding. Asking to use the phone to call her husband, she strode over to the old phone and began dialing away:
“Something’s wrong with your phone, dear, there’s no dial tone.”
She pushed the two little black buttons underneath the receiver repeatedly, and suddenly I remembered doing the same thing many years ago, hearing a tinny voice come over the line announcing, “Operator”. We tried to explain to her that this phone was just for fun, that she could use our cordless one. Still confused from her fender bender, I guess the concept of an old phone as decoration was beyond her grasp at that particular moment. She tried once more to dial, then turned and headed back out the door, walking to her house. My daughter stayed with her to be sure she didn’t take a tumble down the steep hillside to the street.
Later at suppertime table talk, Emily thought someone trying to use such an old phone was funny and quaint, although she understood why the neighbor might make such a mistake. Familiar things are comforting, they reassure us that the world is still round and the sun will rise in the east each and every morning. Partly it’s the reason I collect such mementos and weave them into our everyday routine; the connection from a great grandparent’s life to mine is important and keeps me grounded, giving meaning to who I am and where I’m from. Rusty, worn, and moth-eaten, my treasures are graced with the special patina of age and long use. Each nick, each scar, each sausage pattie-etched spatula speaks to me across the years, spinning a gossamer thread of love through life’s time warp. I wonder what things of my own will be picked up years from now by a great great granddaughter; will she look into the silvered hand mirror on my dresser, the one that once graced my own grandmother’s dresser top, and see the faint ghostly images of each maternal generation?
I surely hope so.