Friday, February 10, 2006

Sense of Place: Icons



What makes our sense of place so strong, especially the places of our past? Part of it is the people that passed through our lives while we were there, for good or ill. Some of it comes from particular events during the time we were there. But it also involves things that we saw, we used, sometimes even cherished.

My Grandma Fitzpatrick had a mysterious wooden box in her upstairs that I came across during those Sunday afternoons when the grown-ups had eaten too much roast beef and mashed potatoes, and were now napping or chatting downstairs. After looking through Grandpa's old books with the gold-embossed-letters on their covers in the little closet, and rocking in the little armless rocker, I would open the wooden box and once again try and figure out what is was. It was empty, but I instinctively felt it shouldn't be. The hinge was long, metal, flat and slatted, sliding along a knob on the inside. The box had been painted, but I could see evidence that it had been beautiful once underneath. On the front were several groups of holes, some small, some as large as a dime in diameter. I eventually found out with my insistent questioning that it had once been a radio, but now was used to store things...or it once was.

I never forgot it, and when my Grandma broke up housekeeping years later, I asked to have that little box. More years went by, and by then I was a young married woman. In my parents' driveway one summer, I determined to strip the old paint off to see what was underneath. My hard work revealed a beautiful grained wood, solid all around, with a black enamel paint on the front. Ever since I have used it to store lap blankets, afghans, and doilies in.

Recently, I did a little research and found out the history of the little radio. It is a Freshman Masterpiece, built circa 1926. I've been told they were a very common brand, built for the masses, the Ford Model-T of radios. Battery-operated, they are collected and rebuilt by afficiados to this day. I don't have the ambition to do quite that, but I just might look for the knobs and set it up to look like it works...

The seemingly mundane items of a time long ago don't fade from our minds.