Things, things, things

The number of things we have is astonishing.  It unimaginable what we’d do without them. I’m reminded how animals live so independently and without electric toothbrushes, sterling silver flatware, automobiles, hair dryers, jewelry, clothing, cosmetics, tables and chairs, pianos, umbrellas, artwork and luggage – to name but a few things!

When I was still in bed this morning, dipping in and slipping out of consciousness, I began thinking about some pieces of furnishings which had been constructed for me by Ian LeCheminant.  I believe I was pondering him in particular because of his erstwhile association with Jan Graybiel’s family, specifically her brother who lived in Western Canada.  LeCheminant was employed to construct a house for the brother. Jan and I had been in undergraduate together.  I subsequently worked as a lawyer for her. Jan’s late father then owned the Windsor Star. She and her brother share a winter place together on Anna Maria Island, Florida. When we wintered on Longboat Key we visited Jan and her husband on Anna Maria Island.

Anna Maria Island is a barrier island on the coast of Manatee County, Florida in the United States. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf of Mexico, on the south by Longboat Pass (which separates it from Longboat Key), on the east by Anna Maria Sound and on the north by Tampa Bay. Anna Maria Island is approximately 7 miles (11 km) long north to south.

Anyway…the things which LeCheminant made for me were singular. They were extremely well built and captured an overall modern sensitivity. I no longer have any of them, something I occasionally regret because they were truly lovely pieces (a 2-drawer wooden cabinet, a large wooden mirror frame and an extraordinary multi-sided wooden pedestal on which I displayed a bronze sculpture from Gora’s Antiques in Ottawa).

As to the owner himself, Jacob Gora, little information is known or available about him. According to research into the Ottawa Citizen Archives, Mr. Gora was both a writer and outspoken political commentator. As written in a 1961 article by Charles Whitten, Jacob Gora was then a “…short grey-haired man of 163 pounds…” who “… was down to a skeletal 72 pounds during his time in seven camps” – concentration camps that is.  The article goes on to explain that Mr. Gora survived the war as a Jew because of his skills as a tradesman in leather working and tailoring – something which the Germans then had need of. Gora’s book, of which the article makes mention and which was then being written, was to be on the subject of Gora’s own experiences as a wartime Jew who was subjected to slave labour and witness to the extermination camps. What is most important about this article, within the context of this discussion, is that Whitten finally wrote that Gora, his wife, and daughter moved to Canada in 1952, settled in Ottawa in 1953, and bought the antique shop in 1954 (thereby answering the earlier question of when the store changed hands).

Reflecting upon these matters led me to contemplate further the inutility of having too many things, many of which I acknowledged burying in drawers, desks and kitchen cabinets, some of which things I never used. In retrospect I would have conducted myself less accumulatively and more pragmatically; that is, restricting acquisitions to what were used daily or as Patti Flesher once observed comically, “If it doesn’t go in the dishwasher, forget it!” Which meant getting rid of stuff as regularly as you buy new stuff.

Though things, unlike friendships, are easily disposable and replaceable, the record is sadly the opposite.  We often cling to things interminably while contemporaneously “disposing” of or abandoning more important social alliances which are often precious and capable of growth, development and change.  All of which is to say that things can soon become a fiction of great value while ironically at the same time becoming dusty and sheltered from use or sight.

My experience with some of my favourite things (cars, jewelery, technology, spectacles and shoes) is that their charm is ephemeral. The impermanence doesn’t necessarily reflect their value or artistic appeal or even their utility; it is rather a mixture of a desire for change and a wish to keep au courant and up-to-date. What however is frequently ignored in this evolution is the commensurate need to let go of what was previously collected. As people age they mistakenly surmise that others (younger people, usually family) will want the unused stuff.  Like it or not, others have their own preferences which seldom coincide with our own.

Overlooking this frank prediction may result in the further dissolution called hoarding; namely, a basement filled with unused stuff ultimately greeted with the question, “How do we get rid of all this?” Having confronted this peril myself, I have some acquaintance with antique dealers, art auctioneers and consignment stores. All you need to know is, 1) everything is for sale; and, 2) don’t expect more than 30% of what you think it’s worth. I have also used a professional shredder and the on-line Kijiji.

Kijiji.ca is a Canadian online classified advertising website and part of eBay Classifieds Group, which was acquired by Adevinta in 2020. It operates sections for cities and urban regions, for posting local advertisements. Kijiji was launched in February 2005 as an eBay subsidiary and became part of the eBay Classifieds Group in 2007. The Kijiji brand is used in more than 100 cities in Canada, while eBay Classifieds websites are available under different brands in other countries. Kijiji parent is Dutch company Marktplaats BV since 2005, which is part of the same group.

Kijiji is the most popular online classifieds service in Canada and draws more traffic compared to competitor Craigslist in that country. The New York Timesreferred to Kijiji’s Canadian site as representing “one of the few online brands that fizzled in the United States but found success elsewhere.” Kijiji was made available to selected cities in the United States on June 29, 2007, however the brand was changed to eBay Classifieds in 2010.

While the on-line method of disposal is adequate it nonetheless entails a measure of time and trouble. I find the employment of a third party eliminates the aggravation. As for the payment of agency fees or commissions, I quickly dispel any concern in that regard by reasoning that my pleasure of the article over the years came at a cost. Once again the scheme is a combination of willingness to bargain and acceptance of the reality that it cannot reflect what you think it’s worth. Certainly there are exceptions.  But otherwise that is the rule.

Old age for me has been a contemporaneous contraction of my material aspirations. I flatter myself to think that after years of profligacy and experimentation I have finally concluded both necessity and desire. I still need certain things; but my yearnings have waned. Ironically I may have come full circle by returning to the perspective that the things I now have are worth keeping.  Of course this limited aspiration is made more digestible by addition of the limitation of time. It is an inarguable conclusion that the imminence of death tends to dilute the strength of things.

So it is that this sunny morning as we drove through the corridors of Sea Pines and Palmetto ferns to the pastry shop for a coffee and croissant we willingly expressed our contentment with the current state of things. Now that may sound to be a metaphoric extension of the corporeal and ethereal but is a very real and acceptable digestion of change. The heady ambitions of life are a natural consequence of having sated the material ingredients of happiness and success. Importantly the transformation is entirely predictable with or without so-called satisfaction; that is, the assimilation of things to thought is routine and unavoidable.  Perhaps a bit of that “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” inescapable warning.