Life puts interesting things in your path. Some are objects, inherently fascinating.
Objects from family add a level of connection and investment, and in a way, responsibility for the owner.
Many times, these objects will appeal to a romantic notion of "would have, could have"--had you been alive at the right time / had the right talent / in the right place, the object could have been yours. Used by you, worn by you, admired by you.
However, some objects are removed from your sensibilities, and only your love of history, your sense of human hand, your willingness to step inside another mind, your realization that something exists in front of you that, given the right attention, will allow you not only to understand the object more, but also give you a fresh view onto yourself.
So, you dare go open up.
And find a way inside.
I am but one of my Nana's six granddaughters. Nana was a saver, a collector, a provisioner...not exactly a hoarder, but certainly someone who held on to things. Hence, at the end of her life, the basement of her modest two-bedroom bungalow, in which at one time there were--let's see, husband, two kids, wife of third kid, father--two kids and four adults living. Plus the eight dogs. And some cats, I think, but they were what we would call "outdoor" cats, though that distinction made not a lot of sense at the time. The house, suffice to say, was full. And much life was lived there.
The magic of being a collector, a treasurer, an appreciator of objects and artifacts, was that life as the granddaughter of this woman yielded many interesting somethings. A chunky comic book...a tea cup from the war...a woven fishing creel...a costume jewelry parure...photos. Toward the end of the ten year period over which she was slowly handing out things, I put together that she was slowly doling out to all of her granddaughters, according to a system which somewhat related to who their parent (which of her children) they descended from, but also some sense she had of what you would treasure.
I do not know why, in the end, I was chosen to get her mother's wedding dress. I had not married conventionally, I was not the daughter of her daughter, and I was among the most tomboyish of her granddaughters. I did not sew, though my other grandmother and my mother did, and perhaps that plus the fact that her mother was a seamstress played into her conclusion. Perhaps because I had cooed at the detailing of my father's baptismal gown--an object which should be noted was not again used for her son's children, or by her son's children's children.
Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that we shared favorite colors. Or somehow, in some way, the fact that I shared her husband's stubborn streak. Or maybe she had given all of the other of her mother's significant objects to the other girls, and this was what remained for me.
A wedding dress.
My Nana, it turned out, liked to embroider. As did my Grandmother. My Nana was fond of the empty spaces kind of work, the stuff you would do at the edge of tea towels. My Grandmother liked the crewel work, the kind of stuff that made things bumply.
You may have inferred I learned neither.
I stare at this wedding dress, and try to understand it by the hand that made it. A hand that was not the hand of my Great Grandmother, but a dress touched by the hand of my Great Grandmother as she committed to the man that would sew back together the nipples my Nana's baby bottles, even though Nana was supposed to be too old for them, these objects that my Great Grandparents would not have had as the accoutrement of their youth.
Each generation touches something new, something old. Whether or not they are aware they are doing so.
I try to be aware.
So, because I fear too much contact from my actual hand upon this fragile, 100 year old garment, I touch it with my eyes.
I note the changes in texture, the kind of dexterity to create, the kind of feel it must have had.
I imagine the body inside, other eyes seeing, joy, apprehension, welcome. It is never me I imagine in this dress. I know that some people would. In fact, I have done so with other pieces of clothing. Part of it is the era; I never fancied myself Victorian or Edwardian.
But part of it, I think, is I feel there is someone else in that dress. Still. My Nana had stored it as her mother had, and pulled it from the crypt that was a modest bungalow's fruit and coal cellar, carefully packed away in a box. She had never fully examined it, she said. She was, from a curatorial point of view, afraid to expose it to light.
I'm trying. To examine it. To expose it to light, which is the information our eyes use.
Because, here, my eyes are my hands.
It is interesting, feeling with your eyes. Putting on clothes which do not fit. Knowing that you could never be this, but someone needed to be this so that you could be here now, feeling without touching.
all photos are by and property of the author, taken while wearing blue jeans, a pashmina, and vintage Mitsouko edc. Which just this day, this very wearing, for the very first time after many many tries, makes sense. Turns out it does not screech every.single.time.