The day we packed the house, i was in the living room sorting family pictures and papers when the movers came. One mover, to be precise: He was the advance guard, the packing man.
It was a beautiful October day in 1992, still warm but with an edge in the air. Fall had come to the mountains around the small Virginia town where I'd grown up, but the flame-colored ridges weren't what I'd come for. I was wrestling with the contents of a chest of drawers where my mother had deposited a pile of family papers. There were genealogy charts, military commendations, fragments of biographies, letters from the War of 1812, a photocopy of a journal dating from the 1840s, and what seemed like dozens of little framed daguerreotypes of people whose identity was a complete mystery to me. All had to be sorted and packed, because when my sister, Jeanne, came later that week, we'd be helping our eighty-three-year-old mother move--not particularly willingly--to a retirement home from the house she'd occupied for forty years. It had been her parents' house, then hers and Daddy's.
She had been living alone for almost twenty-five years now, and people had recently started calling us with worrisome anecdotes and dire predictions, all of course veiled in polite concern, this being a small town where certain formalities still obtained. She was making unexplained withdrawals from her bank account. She would walk aimlessly, turning up at the church at unexpected times. Her driving was atrocious, had been for years.
Mother had told us herself that she really didn't think she should be living alone, and for a while my nephew had lived at the house with her. We'd looked for live-in help without much success. There weren't many options. I'd found only one candidate, a woman who didn't drive and who smoked. We're a small family, just Jeanne and me in our generation, and we were both living hundreds of miles away. What were we to do?
The only retirement home--we didn't want a nursing home, just someplace safe where she would have help--was the old hotel, a relic of an earlier time, as the worn carpet and small, rather dark rooms reminded us when I went with her to look at it. She agreed to the corner room overlooking the street all too close to our house--her house--just a quick walk down to the corner, across the street, and down the alley. Acceded with teeth clenched, a gracious face, and the steely determination to fight again as soon as the opponent's back was turned. We thought she was adjusting remarkably well to the inevitable. She fooled us.
The men of the family--on both sides, Mother's and Daddy's--had been high-ranking military officers, their wives gracious hostesses. The accumulated social power of that household, reflected in all its furnishings and memorabilia, made moving out quite a comedown. For Mother, leaving all that gentility behind must have seemed like an admission of weakness, a failure, a defeat. She was abandoning ship, and I think it broke her heart. But, as was typical of our true-blue military family with its Victorian ways, she didn't say, and we didn't ask, how she felt about it. She put on her stiffest upper lip and moved.
She would be dead within six months. But we didn't know that then, of course. On this mid-October day, the move and all that would follow were still ahead of us, and I was on an archaeological dig, plowing through layers of family possessions we'd managed to ignore for decades, or in some cases had never seen before. And that's when the man we would come to know as Roger arrived.
Author: Lisa Tracy
Lisa Tracy is an author and journalist and the former Home & Design editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Lexington, Virginia, where she currently teaches creative nonfiction.
"Lisa Tracy's Family Furniture is a marvelous mix of tenacity and tenderness. Yes, it is about the history of certain carefully collected heirlooms; but it is about something much greater and more human. It is about why we hold on to the things we keep, how we let go of the ones we lose. It is about the soul of a family, any family, our expectations and regrets, our loves and losses, our search for meaning and belonging in the things that fill our houses and our hearts." - Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife
"Plush stories of love, war, life and death are lovingly tucked inside the drawers and chair springs of a remarkable family's furnishings. Lisa Tracy brings them to life with tender humor and due respect." - Tanya Maria Barrientos, author of Family Resemblance
"Lisa Tracy's Objects of Our Affection is a lovely and loving book, revealing the life of her well-traveled military family not just through the furniture they chose to keep, but through what they lost and surrendered along the way. Moving from the heights of San Juan Hill to the courtyards of China' s Forbidden City, this book shows us why the possessions of our ancestors exert a profound influence upon our modern lives. Anyone who finds meaning and memory in the belongings of their forebears will enjoy this book." - Jeff Gammage, author of China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood<
"Objects of Our Affection is a memoir in belongings, right down to the salt in an old glass shaker with a dented lid. Being a born Southern story-teller, Lisa Tracy has captured beautifully why we love our belongings--not for their actual value but for the family stories they hold, and for the way they allow us to follow the threads of continuity in the red velvet fabric of life." - Susan Caba, author of Guilty Pleasures
"This is a book that gathers emotional momentum as you read it. Gradually you realize it is a rare look at the women who have devoted their lives to the men who have fought America's wars. I read the closing chapters with tears in my eyes." - Thomas Fleming, author of The Officers' Wives and West Point: The Men and Times of the U.S