|A couple of old things, Jeanne and Max|
I live in a part of the country (the South) which is known for its appreciation of the past. Yet for all the Daughters of the Confederacy, the treasured heirlooms, the frequent viewings of Gone with the Wind, this culture is also succumbing to a tendency that runs rampant through our society. Since the 1920s, when "modern" became a revered word, Americans have come to value whatever is the latest anything. Perhaps this is because of our inventiveness, our “go get'em” philosophy which has propelled this nation into the forefront of virtually every technological and scientific advancement. Commercials touting detergents or cosmetics or vacuum cleaners insist we buy their "new, improved" product. We don’t question the validity of these spiels; yet I understand ad people in Britain seldom use the term "new" in their ads. They know that their potential customers would ask, “What's wrong with the product, then, if it keeps needing improvement?” In most places around the world people are allowed the natural phenomenon of getting attached to old things. They recognize that old things are appealing and important in a way very different from the novelty and shine of the new, that old things can become as valued as old friends.
For some mysterious reason, I have seldom been lured by new things. I like old furniture, jewelry, and clothes, and when we moved a few years ago to another state, we had our thirty-five-year old washer hauled off for practical reasons. It was ugly and noisy but still working. I also have a predilection for old cars as long as they’re reliable. That along with my love for other old things probably stems from a two-fold influence–my appreciation for classic design with the integrity from a more substantial age coupled with my parents' attitude about possessions.
My mother as a homemaker considered herself a “good manager,” carefully husbanding my father's modest income. Because of her energy and ingenuity, we were able to live in a nice house amid comfortable, well-kept furnishings. Other than his family, my father took care of only one thing in his life: he gave fanatic attention to his cars. For Dad, the automobile was a wondrous thing which he never took for granted. To his dying day, his car was his horse, groomed and petted like a champion of its class. He spoiled them–no car deserves to have its engine wiped off after a trip to the store.
If I recited a list of all the aged things which surround me, it would sound like a not-very-particular museum inventory. I live among furniture and accessories that may be anywhere from twenty to three hundred years old. Since moving to Tennessee many years ago, my husband and I have scouted antique malls, thrift shops, and garage sales to find treasures. I admit I do appreciate the electronic age and many of its products. In fact, I have a useful supply of those new-fangled devices, so I don’t consider myself a Luddite, but I also put those inventions that are constantly becoming obsolete in the proper perspective.
This brings me to the relationships which we nurture throughout our lives with care, love, and tolerance–those of our friends and family, and even our animals. (We’ve had only two dogs in our married life, a poodle that lived to be seventeen and currently, Louie, a peppy fourteen-year-old papillon.) But longevity in relationships applies most especially to our partners in life. The fact that my husband and I have lived happily together for so long make us something of an admired novelty for our grandchildren, who seem amazed at anything quite that long-term.
Unlike the Europeans, the Orientals, the Africans, for example, most Americans have not understood the value of old things. As a people we tend to abandon anything that begins to get troublesome--whether it's a couch, a house, or a spouse. But old things reflect our personal values as well as our collective memory, which in turn informs our attitudes about the future. The past doesn’t become real through text books. Instead, we can best remember another age by the artifacts of that age and by tales from elders; those memories combine to make up our identity. Old things represent more than their physical being or even their usefulness. They have a history, and as far as I’m concerned, they will have a future.