Bill Bryson's book At Home is one man's attempt to "write a history of the world without leaving home." Narrowing his focus to the objects in his home, he writes, "Houses are amazingly complex repositories. What I found, to my great surprise, is that whatever happens in the world - whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over - eventually ends up, one way or another, in your house".
This concept resonated with me immediately. I thought of a shipping crate that I purchased this past summer from a local antiques store. It's a worn shipping crate from a fruit company, the words "Bananas & Coconuts" still visible on its sides and its ports "New Orleans" and "New York" clearly marked. In the thirty seconds it took for me to decide to purchase it, I smelled the bananas in the sticky, tropical heat, heard the clamor of the loading dock, saw the rough hands transporting the crate, heard the bells ringing at St. Louis Cathedral and the lapping of the Mississippi against the hull of a cargo ship. It all happened, in just an instant, and that crate came home with me.
We also have a wooden gumbo spoon and a crawfish paddle. I commissioned my brother to carve these pieces as an anniversary present for my husband and he carved them out of the last bit of wood that had belonged to my grandfather, wood he had brought back with him from long ago travels. When I hold these pieces, they are more than just the utensils they are. They are part of the history of a man I loved, a man who is no longer alive, but partly responsible for my existence. When I hold these pieces in my hand, a part of him is still here with me.
I feel that way about so many things in my house, though for me it often comes down to the hands. I don't think so much about the prior owners of items I've come to love. Instead, I'm taken with the idea of how many hands have crafted and created the things I hold dear. I know, that for the most part, there is very little romanticism in this. Some things were made lovingly, some made with resentment, anger or sorrow. I will never know all the details, but I like to imagine all those hands twined together, supporting me in the present, while I craft and create my own part in history.