Accidental Collage {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 9}

A piece of history was set to be put out for the garbage if we didn’t come pick it up, this giant music box handmade in the 1920s right here in my state. My husband and his dad drove 20 hours round-trip through swarms of cicadas to bring it home.

We had hopes for curing its tone-deafness, to tighten the strings to perfect pitch, but one look at the piano and our tuner friend said it was no use.

So, we gave in and opened the upright grand to hollow it out and make room for my keyboard. Hinges creaked and the smell of history rose up, the aroma of old wood soaked in with years of smoke from burned dinners and moisture from flooded cellars.

We loosened the yellowed keys and the felted hammers and pulled them out one by one. We plucked tired strings on the heavy harp. Inside, tucked between keys or hiding in the cavity behind the damper and sustain, there was treasure, an accidental collection of items: a 1930s postcard swirled with fancy cursive, a tiny green pencil with hardened eraser, old coins and a matchbox car with chipped paint.

When I came across Real Simple’s article “Lost and Found” a few weeks ago, I started wishing I’d kept the little collection discovered on the inside of the piano. It’s art really, the way some things group together on accident in natural time capsules.

Author Judith Stone tells of how writer’s block had her pacing in front of a dresser. In manic procrastination and avoidance, she opened a junk drawer full of random items from her travels.

There were “scraps of ornamental paper, a tea canister lacy with rust, baroque buttons, appealing shards of crockery, mate-less earrings too pretty to pitch, a Burmese candy wrapper.” She found herself turning over an old bamboo sushi box and gluing bits of memory to the back of the box. It turned out so pretty that she put it in a frame. She goes on, “Feeling strangely refreshed, I returned to my deadline work and finished it. Sticking stuff together had gotten me unstuck.”

In a bout of writer’s block in my first trimester of pregnancy earlier this fall (we’re due April 4 of next year!), I wanted to keep writing. But what could I write when every bit of energy was going to beginning that beautiful life and no ideas were flowing? Fatigue and nausea had me cratered in the couch.

I reached over to the coffee table and picked up Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World”. From here? An explorer of the world? And then activity #1 gave me permission to write right where I was sitting.

With my pen, I took down an inventory of everything I saw on the floor: Elliot’s drawing of the spider version of himself. My husband’s high school marching band trumpet, dented and tarnished. The Swazi grass baskets that I didn’t even haggle for because they were such a good deal with my exchange rate. The replica of Rodin’s “Eve” that marks our time out spot. A lone drumstick. Toy train tracks. Dirt and crumbs. A balloon losing its helium. A houndstooth pillow from the couch. Two kitchen towels, makeshift blankets for Farah’s dolls. A Beatrix Potter book. Leather flip flops found as a pair…a rarity. The schoolboy’s backpack. A barrel hamper lugged downstairs by children in need of a pretend rabbit hole.

Just like we pulled the surprise collection out of the dust inside our old piano, I found a collection of curiosities right there in my living room. Even when I felt low like the balloon on the floor, life continued to happen around me (and in me). The fun went on even when I didn’t have the energy to guide it, and the floor inventory in my journal helps me remember that.

These accidental collages capture time and place and show us the art of the moment and the mess.

{Take down a written inventory of something ordinary in your environment: your floor, your bookshelf, your junk drawer. In the accidental collage, what theme or metaphor do you find coming together? What internal thoughts/feelings can you relate the collection to? Share your findings and any links in the comments below.}

This is Day 9 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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Widows and Wedding China: How to Clean Up a Lonely Mess

Bread FlowerAsparagus sizzled in the top oven. I pulled lasagna from the other and looked up. The golden girl waltzed through the door with pep in her step. She came bearing hugs and kisses and cards, and beamed as my boy told her she was “thinking really good” when she got him that balloon. Later, Grandma Hamilton would recount it all, her voice going high like helium through vocal chords.

Grandma Jean bounced her namesake, Farah Jean, on her lap and chuckled that most mornings her biggest decision is whether or not to get out of her pajamas before breakfast. I pictured her at her kitchen Valentine's Balloontable, where Grandpa’s pocket calendar juts from the catch-all basket, evidence that he was here making plans and accomplishing them.

The grandmothers sat down, each in the place prepared for them. We bowed our heads together, generations holding hands, and the youngest of us prayed aloud for the meal. What took hours to prepare took mere minutes to devour, but we lingered at the table anyway, going from one subject to another, a twenty course conversation. Our Two GrandmasThey heaped on helpings of words, happy ones. I took it all in, the marginalized feeling their worth.

I thought of saving the clean-up until morning, leaving the wedding china paused in time under smears of salad dressing, remnants of iceberg lettuce, curls of pasta left behind. Sparkling cider pooled in concave crystal, a cupcake paper sprawled, maraschino stem tossed aside– that mess, it was evidence of time spent, joy shared. We broke bread together and left the basket empty, crumbs on the tablecloth.

Grandma Jean looked out the window into winter. “Does it get any easier?” she motioned to her fellow widow. “Growing up in a full house, then marrying George and making a full house of our own…I’ve never had to live alone.”

“It’s been one day at a time…eight years of one day at a time since my own George passed.”

“Too bad we live so far apart,” her snowy locks glinted in the light, “We need more times like this.”

I chauffeured them home through flurries. Then, back in my kitchen, I checked the menu to see what I’d planned for breakfast in the morning. I had every ingredient except the clean table. Since my husband had done the hard work of putting the kids to bed, the clean up was all mine. I pushed through my drowsiness and sentimental procrastination and made myself grab a single plate. A well-known widow said it this way, that when you’re left with piles of work and only your two hands to get it done, “Just do the next thing.”

I scraped scraps into the can and ran the fragile surface under the faucet’s stream. Then another, and another, and another until all the china was stacked and ready for a more thorough wash the next day. I crowded forks in my fist, a bouquet of silverware for the dishwasher. I shook place mats over the table. I opened the door to a burst of arctic air and waved the tablecloth out into the night, crumbs floating down with snow.

I threw a prayer out there with all those tiny morsels in the air, evidence of a once upon a time feast falling to the ground. The kitchen rag warmed my hands. I circled it over espresso wood all of a sudden bare.

{We may not be able to do it all, but we can help with what’s right in front of us…we can love on the people in our reach. What ideas do you have for meeting the needs of widows in your circle of influence?}