Sunday, 31 May 2009

Do you need eeet?

Empty boxes in every room begin to collect our home contents. As I gather our material things — important, historic, necessary, uncertain, forgotten, useful and useless — the question tumbles through my head with compelling urgency, “Do you need it?” Each reluctant “yes” moves the object to an assembly line of newsprint-wrap, bubble-wrap, and careful settlement into sturdy corrugated box. These old cartons launched their journey in Florida, floated by ocean freight to England, and soon will cross the pond again, this time bound for Lincoln, Nebraska.

Though purging belongings does lead to some satisfaction — particularly the weekly bin collection — in all other respects this is a disagreeable activity. I revive our Father’s oft-repeated motto, the one with power to transform any object, owned or coveted, into a state of uncertainty:
Do you want eeet?
Do you need eeet?
Can you afford eeet?
Can you do without eeet?
If even one of these yielded the “wrong answer,” the impulse was to be abandoned without protest.

Inside retail stores where marketing tricks tempt with relentless lure, Father uttered the refrain to his impressionable children with a knowing, beaming grin, the kind that arranges one’s priorities into new order. So many times was the mantra delivered, it still tumbles through our heads uninvited, over and over like Disney’s “Small World After All.”

My thoughts wander to my parents’ kitchen cabinets. Here, curiously, this worthy citation seems malpracticed by its very endorser. Take the mug cupboard, for instance, and the scenario that leads to its state of affairs.

Our Father, in the company of our Mother, unexpectedly veers off-course to kitchenware inside Asda/WalMart-type establishments. Here, dishes and cups in new designs — painted with nature scenes, unbreakable, made in China — call out to him, “Pick me up, pick me uuup.”

“Looook, Aliiiice, let’s get two for variety.”

Mother reluctantly abandons the towels and meanders to the voice a few aisles away, mainly to terminate the alarming decibel extended to all shoppers.

“Bedg-ch’ounink, Movses.”*

Movses’ hearing-impaired ear is always turned to the side of unheeded exchange.

“LOOOK, eee’ts very cheeep! On special offer! Abbo-o-o! Can you beleeeve it? Buy three get one free! Aliiiice??!”

Vocal crescendo peaked to ultimate urgency, a quick stop for shoe polish morphs into unexpected bargain-thrill. The four questions unconsulted, the discovery travels to the till, into plastic bag, and to destination hazard — the kitchen cupboard filled with once-in-a-lifetime offers so dangerously stacked only Mum can organize. Cabinets must be opened slowly, cautiously, like overhead compartments that shift during takeoff and landing. Here, objects of his affection become object lesson.

It’s not just him

How effortlessly, intuitively we justify what we should have, why we need, why we do... Our discriminating minds programmed to believe opportunity only knocks once, and this one thing will make us more complete. By our very nature we desire better, bigger, smarter, newer... Until we amass a collection of duplicates, and hang on to things as fast as life itself. I consider those who have not so much or none at all. And what of the virtues of “less is more” which I extol? Principles of simplicity and other ideals by which I live and contradict simultaneously?

I review our own lifetime collections, footprints of our times. “Do you need it?”

Back home, the Seniors set their kitchen table with a different collage every day. “Variety is the spice of life!” Father asserts with his signature smile.

Their cabinets are filled with odd and wondrous bargains — countless mini-collections of novel, shatterproof dishes and assorted cups of many colors. The set of matching china is reserved for “special guests,” while their table is adorned with a range of delights in bright plastics; and memories... The glasses we drank from when we were kids; the knife grandmother used to piece cold butter onto warm toast; the melamine orange-floral plates missionaries left behind — scratched, faded, mismatched, indestructible.

And there’s joy at their table. All the world’s coordinated china can’t buy that.

I pick up the pink teacup and saucer my mother bought with her girls in mind, the one with a heart embossed in its base, and wrap it carefully for the journey to the other side.


*“We don’t need it,” in Armenian.


Jeff Stevens said...

Ben & Ani,
So you're finally moving back? It has to have many mixed emotions, but at least Ben has given up his aspirations of being a career student! Hope the move goes well and I know the Lord is with you!
Jeff & Cindy

Unknown said...

We are in the garage sale mode here -- time to decompress -- time to get rid of things we've saved because we had the room to do so.

It will be wonderful to see you with some frequency in the heartland. Travel mercies to you.

dj said...

Has the story continued or stopped?