Places and Things

Was it last week’s book club meeting that resurrected my thoughts about connections? Or was it the books I’ve been reading lately? Or maybe it was seeing a picture of my great grandmother and imagining that her eyes were looking right at me, right towards the future. Whatever it was, I’ve been thinking/feeling the connections, though sometimes fragile, of the ties that bind.

A few months ago, one of my sisters-in-law purchased a beautiful new dining room table and chairs and was in a quandary about what to do with the old one. She loved it and had enjoyed many fun times around it, and yet her needs had changed. No longer needing a table for basic family needs of the everyday variety, she now needed a more spacious table to accommodate her growing family of in-laws and grandchildren.

“Would any of your children be interested?” she asked.

After checking with the three of them, it was determined that Carrie and Rich would most benefit from the gift. The tiny table they were using had been perfect several years ago when there was were only two youngsters in their household, a toddler and an infant. Now they have four children who can sit in chairs and one who will soon be sitting in a high chair. A round oak table with a pedestal base and six chairs (two more to be added as needed) would be perfect.

My sweet, talented husband spent two or three hours a day for several days sanding and refinishing the table. I gave Carrie status reports every other day or so, and she seemed to be especially eager to see it. I send her a picture over my phone, and then she really got excited! While I could well understand the anticipation of such a nice piece of furniture, I sensed a little something else in her excitement, sort of an anxious thrill. I had to ask her about it.

Here’s what she said. “It’s because it makes me think of Granny.”

“But it was Lisa’s table, not Granny’s,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but Granny and Granddaddy were there a lot. I know because I have pictures of them sitting at the table,” she replied. “Plus, we went there for a lot of holiday get-togethers, especially at Christmas, and I think it’s going to be just so neat to have the table we sat around in my house. It’s going to be like having my family with me.”

Interestingly, that same week I read Great House by Nicole Krauss, a novel that spans generations and continents as it describes four “constellations” of people and their connections. Right smack in the center of all but one of the stories is a huge desk that somehow found its way to America and was in the possession of young Daniel Varsky until he left New York City. At that time, he left the magnificent desk with a young novelist for safe keeping, and over the next couple of decades, she (Nadia) became quite attached to the piece of furniture, so attached that she actually went to Israel to reclaim it.

When the book ends, the huge desk is sitting in a warehouse in New York, and a man named Weisz has paid someone $1,000 just to sit in front of it for an hour. The desk had once belonged to his father, a Jew who was forced to leave Budapest decades earlier. I haven’t done justice to this marvelous book. My purpose was to bring up the desk itself and show how things can become so meaningful to us. Possessions belonging to people of our past can help give meaning and comfort to our present.

In last week’s book club meeting, we discussed Sarah’s Key, a novel about some of the people who were among the 13,000 rounded up by the French police force and detained in Vélodrome d’Hiver to await transportation to Auschwitz. The time was July, 1942, and the historical events are true. The novel goes back and forth from 1942 to 2002 as the author tells Sarah’s story and then Julia’s. Julia’s little family is renovating her husband’s family home, and because of a journalistic assignment, she stumbles upon some intriguing information about the history of the house. Did I say intriguing? I meant unsettling, almost horrifying.

When interviewed, the author of the book, Titiana de Rosnay, said that she’d always been fascinated by houses and the secrets they hold. When we discussed the novel, my friend Tilara mentioned that she can still feel the presence of some little children who used to live in her house. She and her family moved in about three months ago, and sometimes she imagines the children scampering up and down the stairs.

This is kind of a lengthy post for me, and it might seem a little jumbled up. It’s just that I know how Tilara feels…and how Julia of the novel felt. Some places seem to have energy and light while others seem to emit negativity and a sense of foreboding. Why? Is it because of the people who lived there?

And back to the furniture, it can link us to the past and the people we loved. At the same time, I’ve been in antique stores and felt some negative “stuff” emanating from some beautiful pieces. Was there friction, contention, heartache, or pain attached to its owner?

So tell me what you think. Are there places that make your heart sing and others that make you feel sad or disturbed in some way? Are there pieces of furniture or other possessions that can also evoke feelings from you?  I’m glad to report that Carrie and her family are loving the table and chairs, and it makes me happy to think of how much this would please her grandparents.