As I packed up the bath toys the other day, I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts. One was that the scientists had got it right about plastic taking forever to biodegrade and the second was the word provenance. Decades ago, my brother, my sons and more recently my granddaughters had dreamed their childish dreams while floating boats on a ‘foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn’* now my grandsons have taken up the reigns. If the world is still in place when they’re all grown, perhaps one of my grandchildren will pass on the tradition and the plastic.

Can’t do anything about the plastic or the state of the world, but if I have no control over the big picture, at least I can memorialise my family history. Unfortunately I started doing it late in life so I have to count on a faulty and biased memory, but then, isn’t all history and aren’t all historians like that? Family history is made up of a mix of traditions, memories and photos. I’ve saved some of the latter onto a USB stick which is about the size of my little finger and the rest can be found in a shoebox under the bed or in those old fashioned sticky photo albums that, once you place the photos in them, can never be removed unless you cut them out, but you don’t, because there are precious photos stuck to the other side of the page.

My youngest was a keen skate boarder who wanted a skateboard of his own. I think he was in his mid-teens at the time. I said sure thing. Never tell a teenager directly that he can’t have something he absolutely craves; it makes him more determined to get it. Still, nothing is sure; sometimes the best laid plans can backfire and this one definitely did backfire. Keeping my fingers crossed behind my back, I said – of course you can have a skate board, but as I can’t afford it, you’re going to have to work to pay for it. At that time, M wasn’t capable of keeping a dollar in his back pocket for more than five minutes. I had high hopes but my son proved himself determined and responsible when the stakes were high. The chipped and weathered sign of his resolve is now leaning up against the wall of the play room at his home. I haven’t asked him, but I think he keeps it to either remind him that as our parents used to tell us, you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Or, now that he’s a parent himself, it could be that old board is a warning not to be too cocky or oversure about outcomes.

I’ve mentioned Jean-Claude before. He is the family bear who belonged first to my brother then my sons. Then D took the bear over and has kept him ever since even though my granddaughters would have liked a chance to play with him. Things were a bit stressful for a while when Jean-Claude disappeared. Clues were followed and questions asked until much to everyone’s relief, the bear was found. Only Jean-Claude and D know what memories of the past they share.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ said L P Hartley in his novel, The Go-Between. A grown up Leo Colsten is sorting through his possessions when he comes across a battered collar box and in it is a diary written by his younger self. It brings back long forgotten and repressed memories of a thirteenth summer that ended in disaster and affected his life.

I like to browse through Opportunity shops. They are the ultimate foreign country full of other people’s memories. I pick up a beautiful butter dish, a mustard pot with tiny silver spoons that were once used to scoop up the mustard, and salt and pepper shakers. They once belonged to people and an era, long gone; at a time when people sat around a kitchen or dining room table, talking about the day’s doings and passing each other the condiments. Now we season food at the stove and use glass jars for our jam or mustard.

I’ve been known to take a crazed butter dish or a salad bowl with a chip in it home, just so that I can appreciate it a bit longer and wonder, but I don’t use it, so after a while it will get re-donated to the Opp Shop. There are antique shops full of crystal and silver, but they belonged to the sort of people I would never have come in contact and a past that I would not understood.

I have a wedding dress, hand-made and worn only once. I thought it was elegant. It hangs in the cupboard protected by mothballs. I had sons whose wives had other ideas about what they wanted to wear down the aisle. Maybe I’ll donate it to my local Opp Shop and give somebody a chance to make it part of their family history, who knows. In the meantime, I’ll keep collecting plastic and family memories.
* Keats

4 thoughts on “Provenance

  1. Nice post. Lot of things to think about. I think the public gets too worked up over these issues of ‘trying to save the world’. Don’t think it’s so terrible that plastic doesn’t bio-degrade, and very likely, after some time, if it really causes a problem, our young scientists will find the proper way to chemically degrade the plastic and then make something else out of it. There have been so many unbelievable advances in technology, that I doubt that discarded plastic items will ruin our planet. And your idea of passing them on to the next generation sounds okay. My children grew up before the skate board, but I watched my grandchildren enjoy them and then roller blades, and so on.

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