This I Believe

Phil - Weston, Connecticut
Entered on January 25, 2008
Age Group: 65+
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This I believe

I believe in the importance of preserving pieces of the past.

Ever since I was a kid, growing up in upstate New York, I’ve been fascinated by discarded objects I’ve found just lying around. I think it all began with the pewter cover to a woman’s makeup case that I discovered while playing in my backyard. On the cover, a graceful young lady in a square-cut gown is putting up her hair—a lovely image from a bygone, more relaxed time; perhaps as far back as the turn of the century. I added a clasp pin to the back, and the case cover became an elegant broche that my wife wears today.

Or, take the case of the tiny fragrance bottle in the shape of a woman’s torso I found a few years ago alongside our barn here in Connecticut. I think my mother had a similar bottle, made by Elsa Shiaparelli for the fragrance “Shocking” probably from the late 1930’s or 40’s.

I could go on about the Maxfield Parrish tape measure I found in San Francisco years ago, or the PopEye push ‘em up game from the 1930’s that I bought for four dollars or the Rhodesian Army Medical Corps hat pin, an antique Russian gun trigger guard or the wonderful piece of yellow quartz from Nicaragua. They all have increased in monetary value, but, to me, that’s not their real importance. I’m not trying to hang on to the past to keep from facing the future, it’s simply that there’s too much to learn from the past to just throw it away. Items that you can buy in flea markets, antique shops, online or simply pick up in your backyard aren’t just discarded stuff from years or weeks ago, they’re repositories of nearly forgotten memories, important and everyday rituals, deep emotions, older cultures and customs and of course, about the course of history as well.

Sometimes I speculate on what future generations will make of the everyday objects we have around today – potato peelers, garlic presses, eye liner brushes, knives, forks, spoons, bottled water, plastic pots, light bulbs, or broken shoelaces and hairpins; to say nothing of vacuum cleaners, television sets, fax machines, cell phones, and computers. The stuff we take for granted, and discard when they’ve outlived their usefulness.

And, what will visitors from outer space (if they ever show up) make of the space leftovers we’ve scattered throughout our planet’s stratosphere? Will they see us as wasteful ingrates … a species of life that was always in a hurry, and could never find the time to properly dispose of their garbage? Or, will they find these to be collectible objects—useful and informative guides to a race that tried to be respectful of their home planet and intensely curious about their neighbors in space.

I suspect they’ll think they are different sides of the same coin. The question is: Which way are we humans going to flip it?