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Posts Tagged ‘possessions’

After 99 years, dismantling a life

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, seniors, urban life on June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crow...

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crowd for bidders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She moved onto our top-floor apartment hallway five years ago, forking over a cool $500,000 for a three-bedroom home. She dressed well, had her hair done, and had a ferocious grande dame quality to her.

She was then merely 95, a former interior designer and survivor of two marriages. She had, as they say, “married well.”

I knew her name. We all did. We also knew her live-in nurses, forever scurrying to the laundry room.

While we were away recently for two weeks, she died.

This week the auctioneer came from the Bronx and his men started packing up the remnants of her life into boxes for sale to strangers: china, crystal, oil paintings, chairs, tables, rugs.

I knocked on the apartment door and asked if I could take a look, as it’s now up for sale and one of the building’s most coveted, large and light, with terrific Hudson river and Manhattan views.

Small world — her grand-daughter-in-law was there and turns out to be someone I see at my jazz dance class every week.

It was a sad, odd thing to watch someone’s belongings being carted away, to be sold at auction in — of all places — Atlanta. She had some lovely things, especially the paintings. There were early photos of her.

One of the many challenges of having no children and no nieces or nephews, is whom, if anyone, to leave our things to — or the proceeds from the sale of those things — when we die. I’m at an age when I still very much appreciate beautiful objects and acquiring them here and there.

But, having had to move my own mother into a nursing home directly from the hospital with only a week to ditch  all her lovely things, (or store them, or move a fraction of it into her small new room), I’ve lived the horror and sadness and snap decision-making of selecting/tossing/selling stuff it’s taken decades of taste, income and pleasure to acquire and enjoy.

The marble bust of her grand-mother? Kept. All her many textiles, collected across the world as she traveled alone for decades? In my garage now.

It meant chattering away to her local auctioneer picking through her stuff as if this was not exquisitely uncomfortable and painful. To him, it was just another day of work. To me, a situation unimaginable barely six months earlier on my last visit to her home, a six-hour flight away from mine.

It also meant going through things with my mother, one of the most private and uncommunicative people I know  — holding up for her decision everything from a black Merry Widow corset to her gorgeous red leather knee-high Cossack-style boots. Her Greek texts and travel souvenirs.

My garage now holds her collection of beautiful Peruvian and Bolivian mantas and Indian cottons and silks, her molas from the San Blas Islands.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for...

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in the San Blas Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When her mother died, having simply ignored the tedious task of paying income tax on her significant wealth to any form of government for decades, there was very little left. I will not be inheriting anything from my grandmother’s estate. I can visit a museum in Toronto to see her former armoire.

Nor will I inherit from my mother, I suspect, for reasons too grim and arcane to discuss here.

I’ve told my father the few pieces of his art and furniture that I hope he’ll leave to me. But who knows?

It’s all stuff, in the end.

Unlike Egyptian kings, we’re not going to be buried with it.

Have you been through this process?

How do you plan to dispose of your stuff when that day comes?

Ten Things I Value Most

In antiques, art, behavior, books, domestic life, life, Style, women on March 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm
Canadian Passport

This is one of them! Image via Wikipedia

Having recently gone through all my Mom’s things, fast, as required to move her into a nursing home, I’ve been thinking much harder about what possessions I value most, and why.

I was awed, and saddened and humbled, by my Mom’s willingness to sort through soft red leather boots and Japanese prints and clothes and say “Toss!”, knowing there was simply no room in her new room and no extra storage space there.

So I returned home to my New York one-bedroom apartment and started thinking hard about what I value most, physically, and why:

Three small bears:

One is tiny, the height of my thumb, a Steiff bear in black and white with moveable arms and legs. I went off to boarding school at the age of eight, and every Sunday, was trotted off to church. I couldn’t stand it, so this dear small bear nestled nicely in my pocket or sat between the prayer books and hymnals in the shelf behind the pew. He kept me sane.

The small white bear is someone who’s been in my life as long as I can remember. He is very worn, his fur mostly gone, and has a quizzical expression I treasure, and often share. He’s been all over the world with me, stuffed uncomplainingly into a pocket of a suitcase, delighting and amusing chambermaids — who know I’m older than five.

The soapstone bear, aka Spring Bear, was carved in an Arctic village for me by an Inuit man my father met while making a film there. He fits into the palm of my hand and has a lovely shy aspect to him. I’ve had him since I was little, and he always made me deeply curious about the Arctic and all the people out there waiting for me to meet.

My passport

Indispensable. I’ve been traveling across borders since I was an infant and my parents drove from Vancouver, Canada (my birthplace) to Mexico (where I’ve since visited many times.) On any given day, I can easily misplace my cellphone or hairbrush but I always know exactly where my passport is and when it expires. Passport = freedom!

My camera

I started shooting when I was about 15, and wanted to become a professional photographer. A family friend loaned me his Pentax SLR and, while a high school senior, I sold three color photos to Toronto Calendar magazine. I realized early I had talent, and could sell it into a competitive marketplace. Cool! I’ve since had my photos published by Time, The Washington Post, New York Times and others. Some of my most precious items are the photos I’ve taken, whether the Eiffel tower under glass (in a Paris department store) or the Rockies at dawn. I use a Canon G7, digital.

My pen

I love my alumunim Lamy fountain pen, and its ink cartridges in blue, black and purple. As a writer, I always need a pen handy. I love how sensual and beautiful even the most mundane writing — the phone bill! — can be with a nice pen.

Scarves

These are my number one style signifier: silk, cashmere, wool, cotton, linen. I am rarely, in any season, without a colorful muffler or scarf of some kind. Faves include a leopard-print linen (bought at Nordstrom), two Hermes carres (Christmas gifts) and four crinkled silk mufflers so long and wide they double as shawls, in cream, dark brown, fuchsia and ashes of roses. (Banana Republic.)

Rings

I have a tradition of buying jewelry to commemorate special occasions, so have rings I bought for my 26th. birthday (Montreal, antique cameo and marcasite) and a sterling one (Saks, Barry Kieselstein Cord, on sale), I giddily purchased the day I sold my first book. I love the heart-shaped pearl and sapphire ring my mom gave me many years ago, the one I’d already spotted in a favorite store and never told her I loved. She knew! On the most stressful days, I armor up with a few of them.

Antique Textiles

This started with my Mom, who traveled the world alone for many years. She came home with mantas, molas and exquisite cashmere Indian shawls, the original pashminas. Her love for these materials ignited mine, and I now buy early textiles whenever I can find them, wearing some,  and using others to make throw pillows. These include an orange-and-cream crane-printed Japanese silk obi sash, 1930s blue and white check linen found in a Paris flea market and 19th. century paisley wool shawls, both printed and woven.

Cookbooks

I love to cook! Having happy people eating food around our table is such a pleasure. I knew the sweetie and I had a shot (now 11 years together) when we started dating and had the same, fantastic cookbook, Bistro Cooking.

What are some of the items you most treasure?

Why?

How Our Stuff Defines Us

In antiques, art, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life on March 6, 2011 at 8:34 am
Tie dye dresses drying

Mom loves textiles, color, antiques....Image via Wikipedia

A few days ago, I sat in a room in a nursing home with my mother, sorting through boxes of her belongings, from books on theology to a black lace merry widow corset.

When you move into one room, you’re quickly forced to shed about 95% of the belongings that have defined you, and your taste, your memories and history. If, as many of us do, we acquire and keep objects and clothes and shoes and accessories, we choose and keep them for a reason, maybe several.

Often reasons quite unknown to anyone else.

Everything I pulled out for our mutual decision making made me wonder — who is this woman?

At least she’s still alive and we had a chance to make those decisions, however wrenching, together.

I learned more about my Mom in those four hours than in the past, very private, four decades as we went through it all:

Those impossibly soft red leather Cossack-style boots? (That didn’t — damn! — fit me.) Bought in London. She once tucked a pack of cigarettes into the the top of one.

That black and white Marimekko print gown? Worn to the open house when she moved into her Toronto home 20 years ago.

The tie-dyed Indian cotton dress? She designed it while traveling there.

That corset? My mom was one confident hottie! I wish I had the nerve, and the figure, to rock a black lace Merry Widow…

The battered paperback book by Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian liberation theologist? Autographed to her. Good thing I hadn’t tossed it in our purging.

Not to mention love letters, recent ones, from Australia, New York and beyond. Good work, Mom!

I fly home to New York in two days, with a new, painful and acute sense of how much stuff I own, and how much if it I have to get rid of, now! I cannot imagine my sweetie having to go through it, box by box, trunk by trunk, and make any sense of it without me there: photos, letters, books.

Why am I clinging to it?

Am I still me without it?

Then what?

Have you ever had to sort, purge and toss out a lot of your stuff? Or someone else’s?

What was it like?

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