WLHQ: You Are What You Keep
Some people are minimalists, preferring to exist with a few important belongings instilled with utility and not personality. Some people would prefer their walls big and white, shelves bare and dusted. Me? My apartment holds a wondrous art collection, bursting with belongings filled with memory, meaning, and personal significance. My Brooklyn apartment has two floors full of vintage furniture, records, and light fixtures, and big walls crowded with art, including paintings by friends, found sculptures, and the recent addition of a hula hoop dreamcatcher made for Halloween.
My favorite spot in the apartment? The overcrowded wooden shelf unit in our living room, where roommates past and present have lined up small tchotchkes, forming a graveyard of memories, each enlivened when a stranger picks one up and requests its meaning. Here are 5 of my equally random and unique favorites from the shelf.
Great Grandma’s Salt Dish
This royal blue antique was plucked from a great collection of over a thousand salt dishes from Victorian times that my Great Grandmother amassed over the course of her life. These dishes, common at the time, were used for a neat presentation of the salty stuff at the table. Why was she so drawn to them? The variety of colors, details and types of glass reflected the changing styles of the time. This dish was given to me by my Mother and I love having something so delicate and full of history in my home. My attraction to it makes me think I would have had a lot in common with my Great Grandmother, whom I never met, but I know she must’ve had great taste.
Maybe it’s creepy to keep a tooth as an adult but by the time this one came out the tooth fairy had long stopped paying me visits. The tiny tooth, which was much eroded by the time of its extraction, was a product of a stubborn adult canine that didn’t want to descend. Now it’s a reminder of my youthfulness until I was 23 years old and a remnant of the years its presence graced my smile with its miniature cap.
Painted Sea Shell
My roommate Ali grew up near the ocean in New Jersey and has a slight obsession with the sea. Over the summer she took visits to various beaches among Brooklyn’s south shore to sunbathe, swim, and build a big collection of delicate sea shells. Well, she didn’t sell these sea shells down by the sandy sea shore, but instead hosted sea shell painting parties and laid them out for the picking. This was one of the best and more intricate ones produced, and a reminder of weekends full of sunshine and scattered sandy shores.
Another strange item in the collection, this old “mystery bone” (that strongly resembles that of a human) was an odd find whose presence brings back a wave of memories. I found this weird hunk of bone in a gravel yard during an illegal concert. That show, five years ago and in the prime of my adventure-hunting NYC years, featured one of my favorite electronic musicians, Dan Deacon of Baltimore. There I crowd surfed for the first time ever, my dive eventually leading me beneath the feet of the pit. I escaped the crowd for and there I sat, collecting my breath for a moment, when I looked and saw the bone hidden among rocks. I’ve had it ever since. Whether it belonged to a long-gone gangster, a dinosaur that once roamed Brooklyn, or a hunk from someone’s steak dinner, I will never know. That’s part of the enchantment of this bizarre belonging.
This hilarious statue carries one of the most interesting cultural stories of all the objects on our tchotchkes shelf. I studied abroad in Barcelona and was charmed to learn of this traditional statuette called a “caganer,” or “little shitter” in the Catalan language. This figure became an addition to the traditional nativity scenes in Catalan culture in the 1600s. His presence indicates good harvest in the year to come through a “natural fertilizer!" It’s an amusing cultural norm, and these little statues are available to purchase everywhere throughout the city- in holiday markets, churches, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Seeing the strange, twisted, and laugh-out-loud funny object reminds me of so many memories of a city and culture I love.
So take pride in the things you have and feel joy in what they remind you of. In an age so crowded with digital media, it’s an exercise in nostalgia to remember things that don’t freeze just a moment in time, but explain entirely how you felt or who you were. And this object from the shelf, to the left, well you’ll just have to imagine the story behind that one….