Danny is starting to understand that his parents are old. Oh, he's had clues along the way, given his dad's enthusiasm for cashing in on any and all senior discounts, or the way we get misty eyed at the mention of transistor radios and LP records. Most of our contemporaries have grandchildren Danny's age, and I've been called, "Grandma" by well meaning people more times than I can keep track of. Still, it is only recently that he's really connected his parents being of a distinctly different time.
I was the youngest child in my family, including cousins-by many, many years. I don't remember feeling that my parents were ancient, perhaps because we had so many great, great aunts that truly were. They didn't live, "like Victorians", they were Victorians. I adored the aunts, visiting their place was like stepping into a museum, and they always sent me home with some odd paperweight, or tin toy, or relic they'd managed to keep long after it had any use (a stack of ink blotters comes to mind). They were old. Their mother, my great grandmother, was old. My parents? They seemed modern enough to me. We always had the newest gadgets, hi-fi's, electric typewriters, electric hair rollers. I don't recall ever hearing my parents pine for fountain pens, crank automobiles, or button-up boots. They got on with the new technology just fine, embraced it whole heartedly, and cringed each time I brought a used book home because they could afford to purchase new ones for me. Obviously, the vintage clothing had to be brought in carefully to avoid notice. My mother hated antiques, and was less than pleased with the treasures I'd bring home from visits to elderly relatives. I lost count how many times she tried getting rid of my aunt's desk, given to me with the condition I would keep it after I moved away from home. I did, and today it is in Danny's room though the chair is a bit too fragile for use by a careless nine year old boy.
My parents were older when I was born, but as my mother died at 56, it hardly registers that she was of another era. I don't think she was capable of nostalgia, and on the rare occasions when she spoke of the past, it was with a sense of relief that all that was over. She was probably glad the rationing was done with. I suppose even if you didn't want something, just knowing you could have it would have been a relief.
Now that our son has noted how old his parents are, he's interested to know about our lives way back in the stone age before paved roads and the Internet. We must seem like quite rare specimens preserved by synthetic foodstuffs (mostly Jell-O and Cool Whip if I'm being honest) who were alive before the moon landing. The thing is, they weren't the greatest of times. No, I personally didn't want for anything, and most days I didn't really believe the Soviets were going to nuke us, but there were riots in the streets, planes being hijacked to Cuba, and the Manson crazies killing people. That's the background to my childhood. Sure, it pales in comparison to what my parents had to grow up with, but it isn't like I get nostalgic for the "good old days" of cops beating the hell out of unarmed hippies, or Mayor Daley issuing, "shoot to kill" orders. We've managed to edit Vietnam out of our contemporary depiction of the 60's and early 70's, or change the narrative so that it starts sounding like we (the Americans) won . Fire-bombing churches, turning dogs and hoses on peaceful demonstrators, the assassinations-god, what's there to be nostalgic for? I may enjoy my vintage clothing, but I really didn't enjoy the times from which they sprang- and I wouldn't want to re-live them. This isn't a vintage lifestyle blog.
I'm starting to understand my mother's reluctance to discuss the past. It is easy enough to look at current news and feel doomed-I mean, who wouldn't? Still, I don't want to convey the idea to Danny that we were any less doomed fifty years ago. Or Seventy- Five years ago. Or Two- hundred years ago. Every generation must feel doomed at some point. What a wonder we go on at all.
I've been trying to find a way to articulate this fear I have that displaying vintage clothing on my blog is somehow putting forth a better impression of the past than it deserves. You had Woodstock, but then you had Altamont. In one form or another, people have been cruel, violent shits throughout recorded history, and I don't have any reason to believe this will ever be otherwise.
I guess what I'm getting at is I need to do a better job of explaining the vintage clothing/cooking/housewares in the proper context, rather than simply displaying them as pretty items that exist in a vacuum. Obviously, people have been turning history into a commodity since the first pilgrimage when every local suddenly had a bit something to sell for the reliquaries back home. Antique stores aren't a new phenomenon. What I can't quite put my finger on is what bothers me about Ebay, and Etsy, and similar sites. There's something slick and sanitised about the way the pieces are marketed that makes everything seem like one more click in an endless stream of clicks. Unique items, but very much a production line experience? I recently saw a bit of WWI trench art in the form of a sweetheart bracelet for sale with the description, "A great gift for Valentine's!" Well no, it isn't. You couldn't possibly strip an item of more meaning. Presenting your sweetheart with an antique you bought on the Internet isn't the same as fashioning it out of scrap at the front whilst trying to avoid being gassed. I feel strongly that these things should be purchased, and preserved, but not by re-writing the origin. It would be a lovely, meaningful gift from someone, to someone that understood what it was. It breaks my heart to see these things, held and cherished for so many years end up dumped at a yard sale, or in a thrift shop because the person left with the task of clearing out the deceased's belongings didn't know what it was. I'm sure a good number of those boys never came home to their sweethearts. I don't know, a hundred years on maybe that's just what happens. My mother had a cousin who was gassed in the war. I barely remember him as an old man, but I remember he knit to calm himself. God knows, I never asked about the war, but it must have been horrific. I imagine he must have knit a department store's worth of items by the time I knew him in the 60's and 70's. It isn't that much of a stretch to imagine hammering out a sweetheart bracelet as a way to focus on something-anything else.
I wish I could say I have some tidy answer to somewhat messy issues. I don't of course. I'm as guilty as anyone else of watching a movie and thinking, "I need a snood!" Am I making history into a commodity? I don't know. Really, I don't. I'm sure there's a line somewhere, between appreciating items, and cheapening them-I won't claim to know where it is.
Something to think about, anyway.