“When I felt engaged with my possessions, I felt enlivened by them, and when I felt disengaged from them, I felt burdened.” – Gretchen Rubin, ‘Happier at Home’
I have a vessel that can fit in my hands that has outlasted many friendships, out spanned my formal education, and survived through earthquakes and floods. I bought it with my own money when I was fifteen or so from a small curio shop, admiring it for its weight and large volume. It is emblazoned with a print of Marc Chagall’s “I and My Village”, and likely kicked off my lifelong love for the artist’s works.
I didn’t really know why I bought it all those years ago. Something struck me about it. I didn’t drink hot beverages; I was on a steady liquid diet of water drunk from a refilled 4 liter milk jug, Snapple, and the occasional shot of liqueur snuck from a parent’s cabinet. Me today suspects that it was the Fauvist colors and wild narratives pictured on the cup. Chagall told stories of places I’d never been to, and had lived through world changes I’d never witnessed. Through this mug there were whispers of the past and hints of a character-building future.
A year or two after it had been sitting on my shelf, I noticed that the handle had been broken and glued back together. There is a slight warble that tickles the finger when you run it over the bump. Alas, my mug had been “building character” well before I was! But my hard knocks eventually came along in my 20s, and I nursed my way through the pain with endless cups of warm tea. Break-ups. Failures. When chocolate chip cookies or Haagen-Daaz ice cream failed, this mug was sturdy and could take in most of anything that was thrown at it. It had survived a breakage to one of its most integral parts, but with care it was left with a beautiful scar and a new purpose. Oh, I will grow to be more like you someday, Mug.
When my relationship with the Tea Blender dissolved at age 28, I made a difficult decision to leave the city. I wanted to purge as much as I could since I was also about to make a move to a new country. I would take what I could in my backpack, but there was no room for Mug. I had already downsized tremendously to move into a seaside studio with the Tea Blender. I left him with my Dad’s blue-stained vertical drawers – a relic from the 70s. Smaller personal effects would easier to hold onto, so Mug landed safely in a small box of fragile items wrapped in newspaper and bound for storage in a small coastal town while I struck out on a new adventure.
I moved straight into a hostel after spending the holidays with my family. My small room had six bunks in it. I grabbed an extra pillow so I could sandwich my head between the foam and deafen the sound of comings and goings. I looked for jobs during the day, and met drifters at night. I became quickly discouraged with job searching without contacts or mentors in the new city. The fire department busted into the hostel one night to resuscitate a young man who had overdosed upstairs. Several days later, I started to get a disturbing vibe off of an older man who was constantly leering at me when I was sitting in the common spaces. I calmed myself down with a cup of tea (found on the free shelf) from an odd mish-mash of thrift store cups.What was I doing here?
I didn’t really have the money to go to a music show that I’d been wanting to see. I’d discovered this band over the holidays while I was staying with my parents. I told myself that going to the show would be a prize for making my bold move. I walked down with several other lodgers, but soon lost them in the crowd. After dancing hard through the first set, I rushed over to the side of the club by an open door to get fresh air. I was squished in between clumps of other concert-goers but felt isolated. Two young women moved away from the wall and immediately a man swung around and said hello. Tall. Long hair. Blue eyes. I was swooning, but I was not looking for a date. I agreed to tell him my name and the name of the hostel (with a caveat that I was not a safe bet as I would likely be returning to my motherland soon.) If he remembered those details then he could leave his number at the front office and we could go from there. And he did.
We went out for a meal the next night. Neither of us ate much. We were full of conversation and things were going well. He asked me to go to a live drum’n’bass night, but we got to the club way too early. This could be a dead stall to the date. “Would you like to come to my house for tea?” he asked. It was the perfect proposal. Many years later, we would move my belongings out of storage from my parents’ house to our new rental. We’d be married. I’d be pregnant. I would unravel the newspaper from an heirloom salt shaker belonging to my grandma. I’d find my collection of wind-up gadgets – wiry bugs and jittery long-legged creatures. Then, at last, I would find my Mug. Here to celebrate new beginnings after imperfect starts.
What items hold a special meaning in your home?