Friday, November 21, 2008

The Life of Objects #3

I had the rather dubious pleasure of visiting Wal-Mart this week—another of the joys of country living, in a way, since the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Ontario, OR (a mere 60 odd miles away) is the closest place to buy a number of household items at a reasonable price. The good news: I found a very sexy new toaster to replace our broken one! There’s nothing like a shiny new toaster to make me inordinately happy (well, maybe a Beltona Southerner Resonator guitar, but sadly I’ve never had that experience). But my reason for mentioning this isn’t to write about the toaster, or even resonator guitars (tempting as both of those are), but to note that “ the season to go shopping” is upon us—a trip to Wal-Mart is a visceral reminder of this—sorta like a slap in the face.

So by the time I arrived home I was wondering how I could get thru another consumerist Yuletide, & Eberle & I talked about our plans for celebrating Christmas this year. I should mention that, if anything, Eberle has always been more unqualifiedly put off by Christmas commercialism than yours truly. Of course, these days Christmas has a religious significance for her, which it doesn’t for me. But I get caught up (like most folks, I expect) in the rampant nostalgia & glee & enchantment & disappointment & anxiety & alienation for which this time of year is so noted—quite a potent cocktail, all that….

But after talking with Eberle, I was reminded of one thing that does “make the season bright,” as the old song goes—finding just the right gift for someone you love can be an almost meditative experience, & extremely satisfying. That’s not to say the most expensive or trendiest gift, or the gift with the most bling. All that takes is a lotta scratch, or a high credit card limit (both, I suppose, ideally). Oh, & on that subject, do people really give each other luxury cars for Christmas like you see on the TV ads—& if so, when did that start? I remember when a dishwasher or a table saw were seen as extravagant….

But anyway, what I’m talking about is a gift that shows you actually listen to the other person & understand something about her (or his) interior life. A great example of this is the red plane light Eberle gave me a few years back—I wrote about it here in the first “Life of Objects” post; & sometimes I’ve been able to find something that seemed to really reflect her imagination as well. The china elephant teapot (which stands serenely on the sill behind our kitchen sink) may have been one such object.

Eberle has always had a fascination with teapots—they seem almost to be animate beings to her. Is it their shape, at once voluptuous & delicate? The gesture of the spout? Is it their ability to sing? Based on my own affinities with certain objects, it could be all of these things, but all in the background of consciousness, where so much takes place. She also has a great fascination with elephants. Tho a number of animals catch her fancy, she has a particular affection for the elephant. She’s confided to me on more than one occasion that she would have loved to be an elephant girl in a circus—the gal wearing the spangly suit & feathery headdress who gets to ride on the elephant. We’ve watched a couple of circus documentaries where either an elephant or a woman elephant trainer was featured, & she always is on the edge of her seat—in fact, both of these documentaries are worth watching. One was on RFD-TV of all places; it was called Americana Backroads: Circus Flora. The Flora of the title was in fact an elephant who was featured in a small family circus. The other was a Netflix selection: A Circus Season: Travels with Tarzan, about the Tarzan Zerbini Circus, & in particular about Pati Zerbini, the elephant trainer.

Elephants are (as I understand) profoundly loyal. They’re also gentle but strong, & have a grace about them that belies their size. All of these qualities might say something important about the person who admires them, or whose imagination they captivate….

So one Yuletide a few years back I was in the Antique Peddler in Council (since moved down the road to the south, to Cambridge), & I saw the elephant teapot, & could see Eberle “in” it—or “thru” it….

There’s a lot of joy in gift giving when we do it in a thoughtful way. Too often we do it out of obligation—& perhaps sometimes we do it out of ostentation or with a sense of a reciprocal obligation. To me, all of these are just wrong—& wrong not only toward our loved ones, but toward ourselves.

The season is practically upon us. Something to ponder….

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