Amnesia of Things Past

Yesterday, I attended an antique fair in Moss Landing, just north of Monterey. I bought the two honeycomb shaped ice-cube trays pictured below. Not only do these ice-cube trays replace icky plastic, they evoke childhood memories.

ice cube trays

When I was a little girl, every year, my Aunt Phyllis threw a big Christmas party. All my cousins attended (including the 10 raucously funny Rashottes, nine boys, one girl). At that time of year only, in her metal ice-cube trays, my aunt froze ice cubes embedded with either one green grape or one maraschino cherry, laid out in two zigzags down the length of the tray. I can still hear the crack and squeak of the ice as she pulled up the metal bar, separated the cubes and retrieved one for me while I stood looking up at her waiting. Getting one of these in my glass (a real glass) was a Christmas highlight. Such a little thing.

The nostalgia brought on by my new acquisition yesterday made me wonder what kind of memories we create today in a throw-away society obsessed with convenience. What stories would a plastic ice-cube tray elicit? Or plastic cutlery or paper plates? I wonder if anyone actually has a fond memory of cracking open a plastic bottle of water or juice? The rememberance probably fades as quickly as the container hits the trash bin.

disposable memories
Orangina could possible evoke a memory for me, but not these other drinks

Imagine the secrets objects from the antique fair hold.


What kinds of meals did people eat with the utensils above? What arguments broke out at the Thanksgiving table set with these? Was a shy boy able to snag a seat next to the cousin he had a crush on, at a table laid out with this cutlery, polished for the occasion? Or maybe we would hear more sinister stories. Perhaps a drunken mourner threatened his brother with a butter knife at their dad’s funeral reception. Fights often break out at those things…

new life in an old chair

Was this the favorite chair of someone’s grandmother? She’s long gone, but succulents give the worn seat new life.

pickle jar

In 1890, the approximate year this jar dates to, Vincent Van Gogh died, John Muir convinced the US Congress to designate Yosemite as a National Park and The Wounded Knee Massacre of Lakota Sioux took place in South Dakota. What delectable foods did this container hold? Who were the people who ate them? How were they dressed? What did they think of these events?

various blue bottles

The poison bottles in the bottom left of this pic also date to the 1890s. Filled with toxic insect killer or household cleaner, for example, the distinctive cobalt blue colored bottles identified the contents as noxious and prevented people from accidentally ingesting them. At least we hope. I’m sure these bottles have witnessed some unfortunate scenes.

flip top bottles

Which drinks did these bottles store? What were the recipes like? Which games did the children play who drank them on a hot summer day under the shade of a big oak tree?

At the end of the day, the end of relationships, the end of the lives of those we love—and the end our own—only memories remain. What kinds of memories do we create with our current fast, cheap, easy and throwaway lifestyle?

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.” — Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

19 Replies to “Amnesia of Things Past”

  1. a poignant and evocative wandering along memory lane…

  2. We had metallic ice cube trays too – just square, not the fancy hex shaped ones – and I remember the crisp dry crack of trying to extricate them from the tray…

    This post sums up why I will never embrace minimalism, either as an aesthetic or an obsessive 101 things philosophy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with objects per se. They are part of our anthropological development. When they are carefully chosen, used, loved… they get woven into the fabric of our life and shared memory and become part of our rich story. But as you say, a disposable bottle of juice or plastic cutlery doesn’t lend itself to much memory making!

    1. I think compared to most North Americans, I would be considered a minimalist. I do have very nice kitchen pots, pans and implements but few electric gizmos or other counter space hogs. Also I have always preferred to do without until I could find something of very good quality that I could afford. I imagine these practices were more the norm not that long ago. So like you, for me it’s not an obsessive philosophy but conscientious consumption rather than conspicuous consumption 😉 I still buy books, sometimes second-hand though. I work for a publisher. I have to support writers!

  3. And how lucky are those who have old things passed down from family members! I would love to have my grandma’s kitchenware and tools. Just having old and functional things that belonged to someone else is satisfying.

    1. My aunt’s basement was FILLED with my grandmother’s things: furniture, serving dishes, crystal, china. But when my aunt was in her eighties, she just wanted to be rid of all the stuff and one day called an antique collector who came over and cleared her out! He must have felt like the men who found King Tut’s tomb! I wish I had some of the dishes. Luckily my sister has the sterling silver tea service and a pile of tea cups and saucers. The tea service is at least 100 years old. Gorgeous!

      1. DRAT! as Charlie Brown would say. The quality of those old things was so much higher. Oh, well, we have enough for our needs.

  4. Excellent post! I did not know that the cobalt blue bottles indicated poison. Yes, they would be hard to miss, but I would also think that a child might wish to drink from the “pretty bottle”. I wonder if that ever happened.

    I think that our children and grandchildren are missing out on those great memories. I have some metal cookie cutters that belonged to my great grandma. When I use them, it takes me back in time to when I watched her use them, eagerly anticipating the warm sugar cookies that would come from her gas oven.

    1. Thank you! You’re right, those bottles are a little too attractive. I’m sure kids got into them. That’s a wonderful memory you have of your great grandmother. I bet the cookies were good 🙂

  5. I absolutely loved this post Anne Marie. It’s beautifully written and thought provoking. You brought to mind some lovely memories from my own past, and reminded us all to rethink our disposable lifestyles.

  6. Beautifully said. Choosing quality items and taking good care of them are important for many reasons. Thanks for sharing a trip down the memory lane.

    1. You’re welcome Natalie. Thank you for the nice comment 🙂

  7. Important & timely message! A couple years ago, my mom & I took my daughter to a Christmas museum in Lancaster County, PA. We couldn’t help noticing how beautiful the collectibles were, especially compared to the throwaway items for sale these days. We’re lucky if we get one holiday season out of our decorations anymore. I bought some vintage lights that were restrung and use them now at our house. Not completely eco–they are electric, after all– but at least not cheap disposable stuff.

    1. Thank you, Lori. Your lights sound like a great find. I’m a bit of a humbug these days, but I used to make gingerbread cookie decorations for the tree, which gives me an idea for a December post… 😉 Thanks for the inspiration!

      1. Avec plaisir! 🙂

  8. Funny how we always feel hungry yet most of the time never really giving a thought about the utensils we use. What a touching read about utensils..I highly think iCups and iPlates can be like these utensils that can be pass on to the next generation because of the different benefits.

  9. What a beautiful article. I love finding and using useful antiques on my journey to plastic-free. I feel blessed to to have found your site! I use lots of your ideas.

    1. Thank you Debbie. I feel blessed to have people like you read my post! There’s a lot of other stuff online you could be reading! Since going plastic-free, I have more of an appreciation for beautiful, useful things. I think it’s one of the happy side effects of kicking the plastic 🙂

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