“Mom, why do you have a desire to save old stuff?” That’s my daughter from across the room watching me spin. The impetus for the inquiry started about a week prior when I brought home a J. Rooney Country Craftsman spinning wheel from an estate sale. My daughter had been watching me take it apart for about a week, washing all the dust and dirt away, oiling the wood, fussing, fiddling and cursing as I tried for days to get the flyer and bobbin to spin freely. My daughter was standing by as I took it apart many times to clean and oil yet another spot trying to understand why the bobbin wouldn’t take up the yarn. She watched me change the drive band three, no maybe it was four times, trying to find the right material from what I had available in the house. One day, when it all came together, she watched as I treadled, finally successful in my endeavor. She spins again!
How do I answer her? She wasn't looking for a dissertation. A simple answer would have sufficed, but it begged the question. Why DO I have a desire to save old stuff? She asked for herself out of curiosity, but now I wanted to know the answer as well. I love the way my daughter asks big open ended questions. Her curiosity is ever an inspiration for me.
The long answer is, I love old things. I love old crafts, old buildings, old churches and cathedrals, old stories, old celebrations, old religions and philosophies, old practices, old cooking recipes. I love old spinning wheels and old train trunks and old steamer trunks. I love the ancient art of spinning and processing wool. I love the ancient textile arts, knitting, weaving, and crochet. I love the ancient sheep breeds who have stood the test of time, weather, and predators. I love old words and old books and old texts.
Old things have stories and I love a good story. I love best, the stories that connect humans to these objects and I love the way they influence people's lives. We don’t often see those connections while we’re in the middle of the story, as we’re writing it. It's not until some time has gone by, often decades, sometimes centuries, that we see just how important these simple items are. They help us to tell the stories of our lives.
When I was a young girl, I was often drawn to the old things of the world. I loved antique stores. As a child I'd never been in one, but I would see them as we ran errands or traveled. We never stopped. They were out of my family's reach financially at the time or maybe they held no meaning to my folks. Maybe a bit of both or maybe it was neither, what child pays any mind to these things? Desperately, I wanted to go inside. Many of us are familiar with the alluring manner by which antique shops are decorated outside the building. Those were the only items I did get to see but they were enough to engage my interest and imagination. Antiquities have a kind of magic to me. They have stories, enchanting stories and far more secrets. “Old stuff” are excellent secret keepers. They are sometimes hundreds of years old, seemingly irrelevant to our modern world, but still they persist. Somehow, they aren’t done yet. As humans, we often collect stories of wisemen, wisewomen, wise cultures, shamans etc., the keepers of ancient knowledge and history. “Old stuff” are wisdom keepers. They are ancient yet still present today. They still have wisdom to share. They still have work to do amongst humanity. We still need them and they still need us. They have a soul of a kind. Antiques appear to us to be lost relics; chronicles of another time. Inanimate. To my imagination, they are simply in hibernation, suspended in time waiting to be reanimated. This is where we need each other. They wait patiently. “Old things” can teach us a great deal about patience.
As an adult, I now have the freedom to peruse antique shops at my leisure. Rarely, do I go with the express intention of buying something. I just want the pleasure and joy of their company. This is also one of my spinning wheel hunting grounds! As I walk through the isles, I hear the echoes of her as she sings the “clickety clack” notes of her weathered song. Her well worn flyer spinning diligently for the nimble fingers drafting the wool. She’s an old hand at this, loyal and constant. A beautifully simple, but effective tool. I hear her tones in my head and heart and when I find her amongst the neatly arranged paraphernalia , I know she’s coming home with me. Home, to be loved back into the hands of another spinner. The cycle continues.
Antique shops are but one of the places I find my beloved “old things.” Truthfully, most of them call to me from deep beneath thick layers of dust in the basements of old houses. As a reseller of vintage and antiques (something has to pay for my habit!) I frequent estate sales within a comfortable driving distance from my home. This is where the majority of them find me. They come to me in all manner of conditions. The best of them simply need their wood oiled and a new drive band. A tweak or two and ready to go. Sometimes, I find them in a heaping pile of jumbled pieces, haphazardly dropped into a storage bin. Honestly, my woodworking skills can be summed up in a single word; NONE! A lack of knowledge and/or experience is rarely a deterrent. I’ll figure it out or find someone else who can.
Still others find me on the side of the road, put together wrong, being sold by a fellow purveyor of “old things”. I have found these folks to be as unique as each wheel in my growing collection! I'm grateful to have a sizable car and a husband who is always willing to pack yet another wheel into the back of our S.U.V, groceries, kid and all. Admittedly, my CPW was an organizational challenge! Without fail, my daughter rolls her eyes and with exasperation exclaims, “ANOTHER ONE! Mom! How many wheels do you need?” That’s a good question my dear child and when I know the answer, I'll gladly supply one. We have a very big garage…
My first spinning wheel was an Ashford Traveler I purchased on ebay. She came to me new, in pieces, in a box, vintage 1980s. Her own song being unsung. She had no stories yet, her wood unfinished and waiting to begin. She lay in waiting, quiet and patient for her spinner to find her. I claimed her and her stories are now my stories, I’m the first writer. I dearly hope I'm not her last. Our daily lives, our stories, will add to her memoirs. In a way she will chronicle our lives. She will hear our laughter and the sound of our tears. Together, she and I will spin thousands of yards. She and I will experience wool from sheep all over the world. She will be with me for all my successes and all my struggles and she’ll help me clothe the ones I love. She will sit with me on my most difficult days when I need a quiet patient friend and a good long spin to settle my heart and mind. I named her Merlina.
When I sit with one of my antique wheels, I know I’m continuing their story. I often wonder what story she’s hiding in her well worn wood. How many children played at her feet, how many women’s feet pressed her treadle? How many yards of fiber were spun as her drive wheel turned? How many families did she clothe? She was present for all the gossip, births, deaths, sorrows and joys of a time long before mine. It’s these stories that are the driving force behind my collection. I love the way these old things are connected to all of us. Even if the objects themselves are not directly part of our lives, they are still our story. Whether it's the stories of my Scottish, Welsh, or Scandinavian ancestors, because they touched the lives of my foremothers, they are my story too. “Things” can give us the physical connection to the people in our lives that we never knew.
We all feel the speed of the world around us. Life is speeding up and it will continue to speed up. This feels inevitable, however, the wisdom of “old stuff” teaches us the value of slowing down. When the world overwhelms, and it will, we have old stuff to give us a quiet moment to recover, to rest, to find peace. It’s a meditation. There is a time for expediency and a time for slowing down. Get up, work, exercise, move around, create, plan…then slow down. My “old stuff” sits quietly and wisely waiting for me, allowing me, encouraging me to mull over their stories. When I'm ready, they are there, as stalwart companions.
Together, we spin the next tale.