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‘Stuff’ can be history’s storyteller

I am on a massive labeling kick. Yes, I said labeling, as in taking a small piece of paper that is sticky on the back and writing something on it that will identify the item on which it is placed as unique. These postings are put on furniture, books, statues ‘ oh, well, you get the idea.
I am trying to help my children figure out just what their mom left behind so they can sort, keep or dispose of things in a meaningful way when I am no longer around to give histories on everything in my house. I have often confessed my addiction to secondhand stores and old, stray artifacts. But, through the years, I also have gathered bona fide antiques and family heirlooms. Now, how are the kids going to make any sense out of all of this?
When I have guests at my home, I take them on a tour and ply them with more stories about the contents than they probably ever wanted to hear. Everything around me has a story. That is what makes ‘just stuff’ turn into fascinating and meaningful communicators.
A basket is just a basket until you learn how it was used. I have a blue basket that my father’s mother carried to market each day. It reminds me of the kitchen conditions in small towns in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century: poor refrigeration, few cabinets and no packaged or processed foods. I feel the worn handle of the basket and experience her hands in the only way I can. I know my grandmother was the wife of a Presbyterian minister and probably had a restricted social life out in the plains area of our country. Going to the market daily is probably where she heard the news of the day, did a little ‘woman talk’ and used her voice outside the walls of her home.
Believe me, that blue basket with the worn handle connects me to a grandmother I never knew. What a shame if I left it unlabeled. How would my children gain those insights into people who went before them? Perhaps, in the overwhelming clearing of my possessions after my death, if guidelines were not left, a new, more complete basket would be put in the ‘keep’ pile and the storyteller basket would be placed in the ‘go to Goodwill’ box.
And so I label on, noting who owned what, how it was used and what years it was in a household.
For families who do not keep such artifacts, there is the communal gatherer we call historical museums. Corydon, with its first state capital properties, has been the carrier of our gathered local family history. But, they usually interpret only that period during which Corydon housed state government. My, a lot has gone on in our county besides our state’s founding.
Most counties in Indiana have county historical museums. Harrison County citizens for years have talked about the opportunities to collect, preserve and interpret our collective stories. However, we never seem to get going on it. Maybe a county museum is a goal for the year 2016, when we will celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial. Six and a half years is about the right span of time to develop our plans and see them carried through.
In the meantime, let the message be personal: What do we keep, what do we throw away and, most important, what is the story that helps us decide?

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