Precious Objects

Lately, I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering what makes some objects precious and others not. Great literature, mythology, and fairy tales often hang stories around a precious thing. Some are magical, others are symbolic, and many are both. The gilded, crystal bowl in Henry James’ ‘The Golden Bowl’ is the perfect symbol of the imperfect relationships of the characters. It has a fatal flaw. Excalibur is both the symbol of legitimate sovereignty and an object with magical powers. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gollum and his “precious” ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

Clearing out/cleaning out my late mother’s apartment has been an object lesson in what is precious and what is simply useful, disposable, entertaining, charming, ridiculous, enchanting, and garbage. What would you do with the framed diplomas? Do you have any ideas to share? I don’t have a need for my own—let alone those of my parents.

Some of the artwork that my father collected is nowhere as valuable as he thought. That’s fine. I’m keeping what I like. What speaks to me and reminds me—in a symbolic fashion—of my dad, or when I was growing up, or where we traveled as a family. I’ve given away a great deal of art, already sold some, and will sell more soon.

But once I ventured off the walls of the large apartment, determining what was precious to me and what might be useful or marketable to others has turned into an all consuming job. I’m learning a great deal of about my parents! Why was there an electric guitar in the storage space? Who is the girlfriend in the cartoon my dad drew of himself studying Shelley’s poetry in 1946? When did my mother buy the embroidered wall hanging depicting peasants running from war planes and machine-gun-wielding soldiers and is it Hmong? Why did they have a chair clearly designed for tall people? How many flashlights, coffee pots, and paperclips do two people need?

Precious and/or useful… That’s become my criteria and it is allowing me to let go of stuff, while keeping the memories that will be the basis for all sorts of stories!

The samovar that belonged to my mother’s grandparents is both symbolic of her family and beautiful. Is it magical? We’ll see.


  1. I am decidedly rather unsentimental. Both of my parents are still living, but when I think about their possessions, my dad’s elk antlers hanging all over his garage come to mind as something worth keeping because they define him to a large degree. It’s harder to say with my other. She does mail order junk like it’s going out of style 😉 It’s impossible to discuss drawing up a will. They just don’t want to deal with it I guess. Maybe it
    reminds them too much or their mortality. It’s hard to say.

    • Candy Korman

      Setting aside the typical, and illogical, fear of making a will… (given the reality that we all die) Stuff can be a bid for immortality. The wealthy benefactor of a museum donates valuable works of art or funds a wing. Rooms in that museum are from then on known as the “Jeri W Rooms of Abstract Art.” That’s a stuff-derived immortality. My great grandfather’s samovar is a variation on that theme. Although he died only a year or so after I was born at an impressive 90 something, I know him only through stories and stuff—mainly stuff! And now that my mother is gone, I have his hand carved trays and his samovar. The imprints of coins in it are the receipts on taxes paid to the Czar. It’s OLD!

      Another immortality that not associated with stuff is stories! The stories we tell, the stories told about us, and yes, the stories we write! So, you and I can lower our STUFF threshold, but maybe achieve a minor immortality living on in our fiction.

      Stuff? Too much is too much!

  2. My mother gave me most of the beautiful things I coveted when they downsized to a smaller house, but there were still things I could not bear to get rid of when even that house had to go. One odd ‘thing’ is a long, narrow table top that I have hanging on my wall. My Dad french polished it and the lustre is beautiful, but my house is way too small for such a table so I was forced to get rid of the legs and hang the best part on the wall. Then there are Dad’s violins. Some I’ve given away but some I had to keep, even though I only play the piano. Then there are some of Mum’s old cooking utensils. More sentimental than useful but they do remind me of the fact that she was the one who taught me to cook…and appreciate homecooked food.
    I don’t envy you, Candy. Just remember that it’s /your/ writing that will be your small slice of immortality. Everything else is history and good memories. -hugs-

    • Candy Korman

      I teared up reading your comment.

      My dad’s piano was the first thing to find a home. We’re keeping it in the apartment for “staging” as nothing makes living room in a NYC apartment look bigger than space around a baby grand, but as soon as the contract is signed a friend will take it home to her house in New Jersey. She learned to play as a child and promised herself a baby grand!

      One of the things I will go through in the near future are the manuscripts. Both of my parents wrote unpublished novels and it amounts to thousands of pages. I’ll read a little at a time and then decide what to do. Some of these manuscripts were rejected by publishers or agents, some were probably never submitted. It’s going to be an interesting phase of this process… discovering their stories!