First, let me assert that I am speaking only for myself. I am aware that there are folks out there for whom these items create a home. Some people can gaze upon figurines, stuffed animals, snow globes, and decorative plates and feel a rush of aesthetic wonder or a flood of lovely memories or even a combination of the two, amounting in pure bliss. God bless you. Collect to your heart’s content. I promise, I’m not judging.
I am not one of these people, though. In a culture of things, this is a little tricky. For one thing, on those occasions when it is proper to give a token—a hostess gift or a holiday trinket at a gathering—I am at a loss. (If I need to give you a hostess gift, I hope you like wine. Or cut flowers.) Everything I look at tends to make me wonder what the recipient will do with it. During the holidays even food can be thorny, since at that time of year you most likely have more than you know what to do with, and I loathe giving anything useless. Third world problems.
As I gathered things together for the garage sale, I felt these odd twinges of guilt for laying out plaques that said lovely things about teachers and figurines that had once belonged to grandparents—ceramic ladies in flowing dresses and flowered hats. I set out a glass square my mother gave me for my birthday one year. She knew how I felt about tchotchkes. “You won’t like this, but I did,” she told me as she handed me the wrapped package. She was right. Still, I felt guilty putting a price sticker on it last weekend.
At long last, I am letting my husband put my grandmother’s prodigious Hummel collection on Ebay. I have not kept them for almost twenty years for sentimental reasons. I just felt horrible for selling them. Grandmother willed them to me because she thought I’d love them. I don’t think she intended them to sit in my crawl space so the boxes could get mold damage from a rainstorm years ago. Two pieces do have an honored place on a shelf in my study: the Goose Girl (Grandmother’s favorite) and a little boy forever waving good-bye.
There are some other things I have kept. My mom gave me this totally funky little book-lady sculpture when I sold my first book. I love it. It’s different, and it was for a very special occasion. My mother-in-law (a gewgaw collector of the very highest order) gave me two little cottage sculptures. She felt I “ought” to collect something. Then she realized that, while I thought they were pretty, I really didn’t want anymore, so she rather disgustedly gave up. I still have them and would never sell them. They are so emblematic of her good intentions–of our relationship, really–and they make me smile. In my dining room are several pieces of my grandmother’s best cut glass, handed down to her by her mother. They don’t go at all with our rather Asian tone in that room, but I don’t care. They are beautiful, and they bring to mind all the women I come from. So does the picture of my great-grandmother that hangs nearby, in which she wears a pearl necklace (it is in my jewelry box) worn by four generations of brides and that will one day go to my daughter. I have photos in frames, though not a ton, and a few other select items.
I feel overwhelmed by shelves peopled by tons of things, especially things that don’t fit into niches. Ask anyone who knows me well; I am compulsively concrete-sequential. My husband gives me tiny painted mice for holidays, and I love them. For one thing, he paints them just for me, and they are a genuine labor of love. For another, I swap them out on my kitchen windowsill for the given season, which is an easy way to decorate and keeps them always a little new. Something to be admired again, rather than quickly dusted and forgotten. Finally, they have a category all their own: Tory’s Teeny-tiny Mice.
If you look around our house, though, you will see that most of the trinkets are my husband’s. He’s more along the lines of the people I mentioned at the beginning of this. Between us, we have a home that is interesting without overwhelming me.
I think the curio business is upheld purely by the notion that there are times when one must give a gift. My mother-in-law gave both of my children a stuffed animal every Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. That doesn’t seem like much, until you realize that over the span of merely 10 years, that’s 60 stuffed animals. And trust me, she wasn’t the only source of the furry creatures—other grandparents, friends, God help me, even my husband and me! My daughter had a friend who liked pigs. Well, of course, that meant that whenever anyone who knew her saw a cute pig thing, or a silly pig thing, a pig thing of any stripe or variety, they gave it to her. Two hundred plus pigs later she cried uncle. “NO MORE PIGS, PLEEEASE!”
I, for one, never feel the need for anyone to give me tokens. If it’s my birthday, I would love to go to lunch or have a good friend join me for a walk in the park. Contribute to a charity in my name. I like to read, but I will most likely not keep a book given to me. I keep very few books. Shocking, I know, given that I am an author and an English teacher, but there ya go. If I don’t give trinkets to you, it’s not because I don’t appreciate you. It’s because I never want to make you sell it with a twinge in your heart. That’s why what I give you will be experienced, eaten, or will die (flowers, not critters). I may throw caution to the wind and give you a scarf.
I’m posting this on Facebook, and you can comment there, but comments left here are easier to find later, and you never know who will appreciate something you write. What do you like to give people, and what do you like to receive?