The Power of Objects

Stuff. We all have it. Stuff we don’t need. Stuff we don’t want. Stuff we can’t live without. Stuff to put stuff in...

In the last few years, we’ve cleaned out three estates of family members that have passed or needed to downsize.

And oh, my, the stuff.

After each clean-out, I went home exhausted and started tossing and donating my stuff. Thinking, if I die or become otherwise incapacitated, I surely don’t want my kids to deal with it.

Then it begins:

Except that ugly yellow turtle cookie jar that was my grandfather’s because it reminds me of his stories of hunting for snapping turtles along muddy riverbanks and I can still see where it lived in my grandparents’ house.

Speaking of them, my grandmother found flower-shaped quartz rocks from Lake Pleasant in Arizona decades ago, so don’t touch those. Or any aunt- or grandmother-made quilt. Ever. Never ever touch the quilts.

Speaking of aunts, leave those two hardback copies of Where’s Waldo alone. I say I’m keeping them because they’re tall enough to support a broken shelf on my bookcase, but really, it’s Waldo, and my aunt gave them to me.

And speaking of gifts, my husband gave me a dog for my birthday ten years ago. Leave his red collar hanging on my rearview mirror, please. May the pup rest in peace.

Speaking of death, my pink marble egg that fits so nicely in the palm of my hand and is so cool and heavy, and my dad gave it to me one Easter—may he rest in peace. It was the same Easter that the sparrow flew into the house and our Boston Terriers went berserk and oh, the chaos...

And speaking of feathered things, leave my birds alone. The vintage tropical bird figurines that I really did buy at a yard sale to flip on eBay but they ended up with their own special shelf in my sunroom. And the seller was an eccentric old woman who’d collected tropical bird figurines her entire life and insisted on giving me a tour of her sunroom where hundreds of birds covered the walls and tables…

And as I toss and donate, I remember things that I don’t have any longer. The corsages from prom, my wedding bouquet and a unicorn autograph book —all destroyed in a basement flood.

And speaking of unicorns, my entire unicorn collection that I sold at a garage sale when I was getting married and it was time to grow up and save space for apartment life. Hundreds of unicorn figurines amassed over my childhood. Each one magical to me at one time or another.

You get the picture. We assign memories to objects. The items aren’t needed and wouldn’t mean diddly squat to anyone else, but we gain comfort with them.

Some objects mark victories or terrible heartache. Think of the relics stored in museums behind glass cases, under lock and key. Permanent banners of victories, accomplishments and innovation. And around the corner, in another wing, memorials of war, death and destruction.

Think of your own banners and memorials. Your first-place trophy verses the consolation ribbon. The wedding band you wear every day. Or the one rattling around in your junk drawer.

Triumph and defeat seem to be etched into the object’s “memory.” A permanent echo of the past— and only a glimpse of the object is enough to bring smiles or reopen wounds.

Fiction writing gives authors the ultimate platform to play with an object’s emotional and “what if” power. Think Hemingway’s six-word novel: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Think of Tolkien’s ring sheltering its wearer in invisibility while heightening the senses. Thing of Baum’s shoes and Lewis’s wardrobe transporting characters to magical worlds. Think of Lucas’s whip in the hands of Indiana Jones, or his glowing light saber in the hands of Luke Skywalker fighting evil in a galaxy far, far away.

But none of the objects mean anything without the characters behind them. We love Frodo, Indiana and Dorothy. We love our mothers and dads and aunts and the occasional eccentric old bird-collector. Without the character, the connection is lost and the object really is diddly squat—just another trinket collecting dust.

I love the what-ifs of objects, especially old rusty and moth-eaten ones. What has that old camera seen? What about the globe that isn’t quite round anymore? That golden cat statue guarding the flower bed—is it marking the passing of a beloved pet? Or is it stolen, a token of some long deserved revenge? The object sparks the wonder. The characters bring it to life…

Take a look around your home. Clean out the junk drawer or the top of the hall closet. When an object causes you to pause, hold it for a moment. Smell it. Examine it. Then close your eyes.

And remember.

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.