My Old Stuff

It was a beautiful day in town with so much to see and do. Any outdoor seat could have guaranteed great people watching, but on an early spring day like this, walking and window-shopping were in order.

I strolled past the front window of a nearby antique shop. Sunlight reflected in a hundred directions as it struck crystal glasses lined along a shelf. The rainbow of sparkles caught my eye so I stopped to look. My mother has glasses like these, I thought. On a shelf below was a huge punch bowl. Also similar to hers.

Staring at these pieces reminded me of a conversation I once had with a coworker. A pre-virus, in-person discussion, long before Zoom meetings replaced water-cooler chats. My office was just down the hall from Karen’s.

I glanced in her door on my way to the copier and she motioned to me frantically. Hardly looking up from her computer, her hand waved me towards her desk. She was breathing heavily.

“Isn’t this antique Italian walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I wasn’t even sure what language she was speaking.

She shoved the monitor in my direction, pointed at the screen, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “A wardrobe.”

You have one?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Of course.” She frowned as she slid the monitor back towards herself. “I love proper antiques.”

“I like old stuff too.” I left for the copier.

I have plenty of old stuff. Not just old, but meaningful. Each piece belonged to someone in my family and was passed down and down again until landing with me. Most aren’t valuable in dollars, but each has a story. When I look at them, I imagine the person who touched them, used them, and whether they ever imagined that a hundred years later a relative would be grateful to have them.

The fancy Italian armoire that Karen panted over was pretty, but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s simple cedar wardrobe than all of Italy’s armoires. Then again, I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

Some weeks later, I invited coworkers over for Friday night pizza. Karen was the first to say yes.

“I’ll get to see your armoire!” she squealed.

“It’s a wardrobe.” I reminded.

“Of course.” Karen said.

Friday evening arrived and with plates full of pizza, we launched into small talk and office gossip. Everyone, that is, but Karen. She was only interested in inspecting my wardrobe.

“What a fabulous vintage mid-century cedar wardrobe!” Karen felt obliged to confirm. She smiled her approval, and then suddenly looked down at her feet.

“Wait. This appears to be an American folk art style hooked rug, likely from the 1930s.” She leaned down for a closer look and glanced up at me. “Did you pick it up from a specialty shop?”

“No, I picked it up from my mother’s hallway.” I laughed. “I told my mother I liked it so she rolled it up and gave it to me. It previously belonged to my grandmother who decades earlier rolled it up and gave it to her.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

She eyed the small table in my hallway. “What an absolutely beautiful mahogany telephone table. And matching chair!” she noticed. “Did you find them at an auction?”

“No, I found them in my grandmother’s spare room. She used them for decades and always told us grandkids about the funny things she’d overhear while making phone calls back when party lines were common.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

The show-and-tell process continued as Karen moved from room to room examining my old stuff. She finally stopped in front of the rusty handheld pruning shears I kept on a shelf. This time she didn’t make a guess or even comment. She simply pointed at the shears and waited.

“Oh.” I took my cue. “They were my grandmother’s and I keep them to remember her love of gardening.”

Karen actually smiled. “Does everything have a story?”

“Of course.” I said.

We rejoined the pizza party and later as people began their goodbyes, talk turned to weekend plans. Somewhere in the chatter, Karen was asked if she would hit the antique shops in the morning, her well-known Saturday routine.

“No.” Karen tapped her chin with her forefinger. “I have enough of those.”  

The room fell silent in disbelief.

She looked towards the rusty old pruning shears as she spoke again.

“What I need is some old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

92 Comments

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92 responses to “My Old Stuff

  1. I really enjoyed this story and the turning of mind to understanding the importance of ‘old stuff’.

  2. For those people not lucky enough to have “old stuff”, antiques will have to do 🙂

  3. What a wonderful story! I have old stuff too. My husband does as well. We know the stories behind each other’s old stuff. I only wish my house were bigger because after my mom died I had to leave even more old stuff behind to be sold to strangers who wouldn’t know the stories behind them.

  4. In my family, too, we have masses of old stuff – and we love it!

  5. The emotional bond connected to items passed down from generation to generation is priceless. Indeed, they come with a story. Thanks for the post.

  6. Paulina Radzisauskas

    Another great story

  7. It always surprises me how people don’t understand what true value really is.

  8. Stuart, I love your art of storytelling – the humor, the repetition, the punchline. It’s such a wonderful ride through your stories. I have always lived in small spaces, so I never collected my families old furniture, but I have collected their old china and porcelain. I wonder if there’s a story in that! Thank you for inviting us into your mind – your world is a much better place.

  9. Your last couple of posts have been extraordinary. Thanks. I’m a military brat and subsequently served 30 years myself. I have stuff from almost everywhere I’ve been. These things each have a story of someplace or some adventure. The kugellager stein I received as a memento of my visit from the music printer just across the square from Beethoven’s house in Bonn when I was 14. It’s a ball made of rock, which together in with many more in an oscillating box , are used to erase the lead engraving plates so that they can be reused.

  10. Marica

    That was great! I did a boat load of hand washing yesterday– old linens, doilies, crocheted arm chair covers and the like. All from grandmothers and old ladies who were no real relation but whom we called Grandma Shilling or Aunt Margaret. I feel so sorry for the folk today who are so into getting rid of things that they’ll have no life’s history to iron or polish or lovingly had wash when they’re older.

    • Thanks Marica! And you’re smart to hold onto those things. It’s sad the things I see in thrift shops that probably belonged to someone for years and years. Hopefully those things get a second life and their stories go on again.

  11. Great story. It’s wonderful you have all that old stuff from your family, including the memories. I still have an old 1950’s little maple student desk that belonged to my brother. He died at age 21, so I keep it. I think of letting it go but it’s one of the few things I have of his. I have stuff from grandmothers and my Mom, too. I like older furniture anyway, rather than things shiny and new.

  12. Lovely story! And for the record (I’m an antiques appraiser) If a freestanding closet is French (made there or styled as such), it’s called an Armoire. Anything else, especially English or American, is called a Wardrobe. 🙂

  13. Funny – had a conversation about this pre-CoVID. My friend and I were talking about a mutual friend’s lovely new home and somehow or other we ambled into another conversation about our “old stuff” She was asked about different pieces of artwork and such. We don’t have a lot of opulent design pieces – mostly stuff I’ve inherited – a lot of my grandmother and sister’s artwork. She then asked me about the stories behind the pieces. We spoke about how those stories behind the pieces bring a life and fullness to one’s home. I love our old stuff too.

  14. That was a good one. I have doilies, and cupboards and a rocker and silverware ,a twin poster bed, quilts etc. Just some old stuff of my Mothers. Ha !! -Monica

  15. Another wonderful, thought-provoking piece. The life & the “worth” of most things comes from those who have loved & do love them, not how they are displayed impersonally in a store window or catalog. Mostly the same can be said for people. So much of who we are comes from those who love & nurture us.

  16. My house is full of old stuff, from my family, my husband’s family, and stuff from antique shops. I like the idea that with old stuff, I really don’t have to worry so much about matching what I already have.

  17. I love my old stuff too.
    Beautifully written. Thank you.

  18. I really enjoyed this read. I live in Italy, therefore, we have lots of armoire’s and old stuff at home too, which I cherish.

  19. Old Stuff! Treasures! It’s all about perspective. Thank you, Stuart, for another great story!

  20. Some people have stuff; other people have stories. Somewhere in between, you can find history.

  21. Rubab Hasnain Khakoo

    What a wonderful story !!!

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  22. I really enjoyed this story 😁

  23. I hope Karen continues to look for great ‘old stuff.’

  24. Although…I have reached an age where some of the things I remember as new, even modern, are showing up in vintage and antique stores. I’m not sure whether to revel in how durable those things are, or to be offended at being tagged as vintage.

  25. I really enjoyed this. It’s funny and it’s sad – I spent years trying to get ‘old things’ from my family and my husband’s. I thought it would be great to have things that were passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, the reality is that most of it will be sold to strangers as we downsize.

  26. Nice story. I enjoyed reading it very much. I do have a few antiques, but am more partial to my ‘old stuff’ that comes with family stories attached. Keep those reminisces coming.

  27. Love this! I too have many old family pieces that i love and that hold memories. Not sure what will happen to them when I’m gone, but hopefully they will continue to be cherished!

    Sent from AT&T Yahoo Mail for iPad

  28. I love Old things too, especially songs. I love keep things for remembrance like old magazines.

  29. I love this, Stuart. After down-sizing for three significant moves my apartment is mostly furnished with belongings that have stories to tell me. I did buy a Lazy Boy recliner that tells my age.

  30. Nice story…love from India… I’m also trying to write poems and stories but language is the problem🙄

  31. A lovely story. Old stuff is the best, especially old family stuff with tales to tell and memories. My house is full of old family stuff, unglamorous, not worth any money, but packed with memories and special to no-one but me. That includes rusty old garden tools.

  32. I really enjoyed reading this and caught myself smiling as I read along. Thanks for the great insight! I myself enjoy old things, not collectables per say, but my nanny’s Blue Mountain pottery pieces that she had in her front hallway all those years ago that now sit on my end tables. I had no idea they were worth anything or hard to find until I went to purchase some myself but to me the memories and stories they told were priceless and I’ve been collecting ever since she gave them to me!

  33. digitaldiariesdaily

    Its a very nice story. I have just joined WordPress, and your style of writing will be a great help to me.

  34. What a wonderful story! Stories and memories are so much more valuable than objects. This was a perfect reminder!

  35. My mother would laugh at this story. She always said, “An antique is something someone didn’t use enough to wear it out! I still smile when I think of the looks on the faces of the Antique dealers when they drove by our farm and saw the Wood Washing Machines painted pretty green with Geraniums in them.

  36. I really enjoy the way you write,very descriptive.I can almost see it happening in front of my eyes.

  37. Great story 😉 Karen knows what she wants :))

  38. Thank you for showing here that value is not money, it’s the people. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Stuart,
    Great post.
    And perfect example of Oscar Wilde’s quote: “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
    Yet, with the proper influence, one can see all in a new light.
    – Alan

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