The Power of Objects (For Good and Not-So-Good)


Objects. Stuff. Things. Effects. Possessions. Obsessions. All words for those physical items that surround us, that we gather to us, that we buy, use, discard, pass long.

I hereby step forward to confess: My name is Ann Parker and I am an object-a-holic.

But not just any objects. I gravitate toward those that have their beginnings in the past or are imbued with my own family history.

Books! Lovely books! But that’s not all…

This is probably no surprise to anyone who has read some of my postings and musings. I love old books, printed in the time frame I write about (the 1870s–1880s). I also gravitate toward photographs and tintypes, and have a scattering of objects including a mourning fan, “tonic” bottles, button hooks, old coins, and a paper spike/spindle (as well as an old manual typewriter of more recent vintage—probably 1940s-50s—that I. Just. Could. Not. Resist.). For the newest book in my Silver Rush series, What Gold Buys (which is coming out September—woot!!), I snapped up various memento mori and a beautiful old pocket watch. Holding any of these objects feels magical to me.

This is all to the good for writing fiction and trying to bring the past to life.

However, the “power of objects” has a dark side.

A closetful of non-digital photos, dating back to my own childhood and earlier still. Two bags of my parents’ clothing (note: they died a decade ago, in 2006), buried deep in my closet. I periodically open each bag, thinking “It’s time,” and surely someone would be grateful for a warm tweed jacket or a lovely scarf. Then, I touch the fabric, catch the faded scent of my mother’s perfume or my father’s cigarettes (or am I just imagining that?)… and I can’t do it. Back into the closet they go.

A sample of my sister’s amazing artwork.

With my sister’s recent death, the dark side struck hard and fast. I arrived in New York this past week with my siblings, determined to keep my addiction under control. I promised myself (or lectured myself, more like): I’d fill a small trunk of hers with mementos—bits of her lovely artwork, a sweater or maybe a jacket or shirt or two, some old family photos, perhaps a coffee mug (or two. Or three. It is a trunk, after all)—and call it good. After all, there were shipping costs to consider…

But it didn’t work out that way. Not at all.

Once we discovered the small fortune it would cost to ship a single small chest of drawers (never mind the small mountain of art books my daughter wanted… and even through media mail, well, a mountain is a mountain), we opted to plunk down the cash to hire a portion of a moving company’s van.

At that point, I cried in triumph and despair “Havoc!” and my personal object-obsessed hounds of hell slipped free. (Yes, I know it should be dogs of war, but I’m nearly as obsessed with alliteration as I am with objects.)

Boxes, boxes, everywhere. And this isn’t the half of it.

Every item I touched, nearly ever piece of paper that held her notes, her little doodles…

I couldn’t let it go.

I wasn’t the only one, but I was by far the “worst.”

And so, the pile of boxes grew, and grew…

Today (or rather yesterday, as you read this) is the day we pack the moving truck. And we are now dealing with not a small mountain, but more a mountain RANGE (complete with foothills) of boxes.

I tell myself that, after that ton o’ cardboard hits home, I will have time to go through the contents more slowly and pare things down to those objects that are most near and dear.

Yeah, right.