Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cats and Dogs

I am trying to distract myself after the Steelers loss in Houston this afternoon (terrible for several reasons, among them the fact that our quarterback is questionable for next week's game), so I decided that I will tell you the story of my two little Etsy Miracles, which are about as far away from football as you can possibly get.

This is a story that has to be told with a note of caution, because it is the story of the power of inanimate objects and what they come to represent to us.  Taken too far, that can lead to a starring role in a reality show about hoarders.  Growing up with a mother who hoarded, I have to fight a tendency to be too much of a collector myself.  Living now in a much smaller house, that I have come to think of as "The Cottage" because it makes it seem quaint as opposed to simply little, I really, really have to fight not to regather loads of random items that I worked very hard to separate myself from when I moved here.  Additionally, I think we all have to keep the value of our things in perspective.  How many families in Europe in the early 30's ever would have thought they could survive without their fine china and family heirlooms, but how many of them had to as war raged across the continent?  Stuff is just that:  stuff.   It can be replaced.  The people in your life cannot.  However, sometimes that stuff comes to remind you of those people and is therefore very dear.

This is the story of some objects that are precious to me (Gollum) because I look at them and am taken back to a time in my life when things were simple, my love for my parents, and theirs for me, was whole and untainted, and all the trials and sorrows of life were ahead of me and therefore unknown.   Quite simply, I look at these things and they make me smile.

So, with that drawn out introduction, allow me to give you some background.

The Cats

Growing up, my mother had these porcelain cat salt and pepper shakers.  White Siamese cats - a girl with a pink ribbon and a boy with a blue one.  I was fascinated with them as a little girl.  Not only because of their Mona Lisa smiles making them look like they were in cahoots in some mischievous plan, but because when you shook them there was a sound maker in the bottom of each one that made it sound as though they were meowing.   Every few months, Mother would let me take them out of the curio cabinet and play with them, always keeping a watchful eye on me so I wouldn't get too rambunctious and break them.  Of all the things I ended up doing as a child - I never did take them out without her permission and without her right there.  I always accepted one day I would inherit them.  But, they never apparently made it out of Montana.  When Mother moved back to Pennsylvania the year after my dad died, they weren't among her things.  I asked her about them and she gave me a little shrug and said she didn't know.  This is a woman who knew when we threw away an outdated circular, so I never believed that.  I always thought she gave them to someone or let them go in the auction and didn't want to tell me.   I let it go, but I was sad about it and always held out a little hope they were just in some of the boxes that never got unpacked.  But they weren't.  When we  went through all her things after she died, that last hope of ever seeing them again or knowing what happened to them faded.

The Dog

My mom was always the one with too many things, some of them had stories connected to them, some of them did not.  My dad's life was much more streamlined.  Whatever he did have, it had meaning.  Even though I did not always know what it was because he could be guarded about his emotions.  Among those things was a sad eyed ceramic hound dog planter that he kept on his dresser to hold his cufflinks and tie clips.  I don't know where he got it or why it was special, but he was fond of it.  After he was gone, Mother gave it to me.  I have had it ever since, usually holding business cards - for a long time, it housed a note from Kelsey thanking me for my patience and one from Marissa.  It moved around with my parents, then from their home in Montana to Texas, and it made it safely back to Pennsylvania where it sat on the dresser in my office.  Then, on that awful day in April when Greg called to tell me Noelle had died, a gust of wind pushed in through the open window, knocked a framed photo over into it and sent it crashing to the hardwood floor, shattering it beyond any hope of repair.  I was devastated.  I had allowed this piece of my father to be destroyed so casually.

The Miracle Part

If you've gotten a gift from me, or if you do at some point, chances are I bought it on Etsy.  Marissa introduced it to me last year during a boring Longhorn game, and I've been hooked ever since.  Already a long post, I won't belabor why, but there is a bit of everything on it.  I use it a lot.  Which means I get a lot of email from them tempting me to use it even more.  In full holiday shopping mode, I usually will look, and a couple of weeks ago, I was peeking at some of the items in a promotional email and happened upon a "vintage" shop that had a lot of salt and pepper shakers.  So, I thought I'd give it a shot and searched for cat shakers.  The results were the exact shakers Mother had.  Ironically, the vendor is from Pittsburgh (and, yes, it has occurred to me that these are the same ones, but I doubt it).  But, I immediately bought them.  Then, thinking why not, I had already gotten extraordinarily lucky, I searched the site for "ceramic hound dog" and, lo and behold, found the exact same thing as my Dad's old hound dog.  And, not just one, but a pair!  I bought them too.  Both packages arrived last week.  They're just old stuff.  But, for me, they represent little pieces of my parents, little flashes of my childhood, and a more innocent time gone by.  The cats have taken their place in my curio cabinet, and one dog is on my dresser in my bedroom, the other in my office - none of them are any where close to a window.  Every time I look at them they make me smile.

I have never really felt my parents presence since they died.  That otherworldly sense that people sometimes talk about where they feel their loved ones are with them.  I yearned for it now and again - I guess because of all the things we never said to one another - all the unresolved things that would remain that way forever.   But, as I look at my silly little ceramic cats and dogs, I have to wonder...

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