Suszynski: I haven’t lost the rose
On my windowsill, there is a cloisonné egg, a dried rose given to me by Franz Klammer and a turquoise toy Fiat 1500. The egg is mine, it was gifted to me by my grandfather. The car is not mine, however. But I remember that I found it in the bottom of a box, mixed in with objects that once belonged to the little boy my father once was.
I love objects with stories. I miss visiting the homes of my friends and seeing the objects they have preserved — which ones they deem worthy of keeping on their shelves. The objects on my windowsill have been there so long that when I pick them, there is a faint ring around where the base of the object rests against the wood.
For a year, I have not been able to indulge my object curiosity. I only comb over my own collection and what I find in the house. In order to touch something new and once solid, I have been reading about other people’s objects. In a book that was published in its English translation this past December called “An Inventory of Losses,” Judith Schalansky explores vanished places like the Von Behr Palace, a lost movie and Kinau’s Selenographs among other decayed and lost items.
The “Preamble” to the book is a long list of “found” things: “While I was working on this book, an archivist at New York’s Schaffer Library found in an almanac dating from 1793 an envelope containing several strands of gray hair belonging to George Washington; a hitherto unknown Walt Whitman novel and the lost album Both Directions at Once by the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane came to light … ”
Before President Joe Biden took office, photos of people removing objects from the White House, including one Abraham Lincoln bronze bust cropped up in the news. I guess I had never paid attention to this “changing of the guard,” but it happens with every new presidency. Objects are returned to the White House Historical Association and the new president gets his pick of items to borrow for the duration of the term.
Objects, like the Lincoln bronze bust, can outlive us and their import falls on the people who choose them: “There is no disputing, though, that death and the associated problem of how to deal with the sudden absence of a person at the same time as the presence of their legacy, from the corpse to the abandoned belongings, have, over time, demanded answers and prompted actions that have had a significance beyond their strict purpose and mark the elevation of our early ancestors from the animal to the human sphere,” Schalansky writes.
I never intended to keep the rose that Klammer gave me at his birthday party. I was working at a restaurant in Telluride and decided to stay after hours for the private event. My job was to make sure things looked tidy and to check in with the guests every once in a while. But eventually, as more and more people filed into the restaurant and the drinks started flowing, I retreated behind the host stand where I found the former alpine ski racer, along with J.T. Holmes. They were also hiding, it seemed.
Schalansky says, “In a sense, the world is a sprawling archive of itself – and all animate and inanimate matter serves as documentary evidence forming part of a monstrous, highly tedious inscription system that attempts to draw lessons and conclusions from past experience … ”
Now I look at the rose that I keep in a miniature watering can. The edges have faded with the sun, I am not entirely sure how it has endured moves and the shuffling about of life, but it’s still here. My fascination with it, perhaps, is that I haven’t thrown it away and that it has yet to be lost.
“All manner of strategies are used to keep hold of the past and ward off oblivion,” Schalansky says.
But there is also something else I have noticed about objects that make them more than one memory. Every time I look at the rose, or the little toy car, I add a layer of experience. I still remember when I first found the Fiat, and said to myself, “Ah, yes, my dad was once a little boy.” But I will also remember, sitting in the light of the afternoon sun, wondering if I had watered my plant, or if the leaf is just browning because it is too close to the cold window, that I periodically took the little toy car between my fingers and tested it along the surface of my desk as I waited out the pandemic.
We lose things, we keep things, we trade out objects we have grown weary of for new ones. We pick our objects up, turn them around, place them back down. And they retain that touch, the touch of me at age 12, when my grandfather gave me the cloisonné egg. The touch of old presidents, new presidents, future presidents. Some things will slip into oblivion, which to me, is just as comforting as remembrance. Impressions we have gathered in the past year may fade, like the edges of a rose in the sun. Or, we may choose to recast the story, for better or for worse.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.