Monday, June 16, 2014

Junk or treasure ~ My Column from Sunday's Paper

There’s an old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” As I look around our home, many people would say most of our things fall into the junk category, and that would probably be true, if it weren’t for the stories behind them.

There’s a plant in the corner of our deck that we’ve had as long as we’ve been married. Jilda’s mom gave it to her, but her mom got it from Jilda’s grandmother Mammie. It’s called a bleeding heart and it’s as white as fine porcelain with what looks like a red tongue sticking out from the center.

Through the years, we’ve tended that flower like a baby cutting teeth. I’d give anything to hear Mammie tell how she got the plant, but we never asked, and she never said. And now it’s too late.

A few years ago, I interviewed an octogenarian from Mountain Brook. Her house was old and unremarkable on the outside, but inside it was filled with treasure. Everywhere I looked were photographs, books, and paintings that looked very old.

She brewed some hot mint tea to sip during the interview. As we drank from antique china cups, I asked her about a figurine on her coffee table. The little mummy was the size of a Cracker Jack toy. It looked like it had been carved from bone. 

“Oh this,” she said picking up the piece. My father gave it to me many years ago.” She went on to explain that one of her father’s clients got the figurine out of a pyramid during an expedition to Egypt in the 1920s.

When this lady passes on, her things will likely be thrown into a bin and sold as junk at a yard sale and the stories lost forever.

Jilda and I will be in the same boat someday. When I look around my office, there are so many things with interesting stories.

The pencil holder on Jilda’s writing desk for example. It’s a small cedar cup with eight sides. But on each side are tiny hand-carved pieces of different woods that form an intricate design. A friend of ours who is a filmmaker picked the pencil holder up at a open-air market while shooting a documentary of the Syrian peace talks back in the 1980s. 

Wouldn’t that be a cool invention? The ability to put a chip into the things we love that could tell their story after we’re gone.

The bowl on our coffee table might tell this story:

I am a bowl, carved from the stump of an Irish Ash tree by Dominique Madden. The Irishman pulled me from a fireplace one night while performing with Rick and Jilda at Characters Pub in Tullamore, Ireland. Dominique stomped out the fire with his boot and then he told Jilda, “I’ll make you something out of this.”

He turned me on a wood lathe and polished me until I glowed like glass. 

A few months later, he mailed me to the Watson’s with a poem he’d written entitled “Bowl with a hole.” I’ve been a candy dish on their coffee table since 1999.

When we are gone, the relatives left will sort through our things and wonder why this odd assortment of things meant enough to us to keep. They will not know what’s junk and what’s treasure because they won’t know the stories, and it’s the stories that make things valuable.


  1. It definitely is the stories that that make our things special... I have many items like this. I need to share these stories with my children more ;-)

  2. I would hope a hand turned wooden bowl with a hole will be beautiful enough for anyone to keep.

  3. You have hit the nail on the head.
    It is not the things but the stories behind them.
    When I see things at a thrift shop I always wonder what is the story behind it.
    Was it loved loved? Did it travel? What loving hands designed it?
    and how could relatives be so callous as to show such disrespect so as to give it away like this? Making gift baskets for school functions church functions etc.. would be a better way
    to get rid of stuff since then they would also have a story for the new people who get them.
    I also thought one day to sit down and write up the story behind each thing before wrapping it up knowing my kids will throw it away. I told my son to keep them anyway for the grand children.

  4. You are probably right about one man's junk is another man's treasure.....
    Different strokes for different folks... I'm not a sentimental person and I can't seem to get attached to anything. Maybe it's because I never owned old things. I know a lot of people love to collect old things and they decorate their house with it. It look nice but I think that I would get tired of it very fast. It's nice if they know the story behind the item.

    Nothing wrong with keeping old things, it's just not me and I don't like clutter just like my mom. We took a lot of photos however. It's difficult living in the moment when we are surrounded with old sentimental things.


  5. Maybe you could write out the stories and then figure out who should have them in your family. After my in-laws passed away all the kids went to the farm and picked out what they wanted. Some things already had been designated for someone. I found a note in a beautiful antique glass pitcher with 8 glasses that stated it was a gift to my mother-in-law from my father-in-law on her 19th birthday. It helps to have those memories written down. We had an auction but it made me almost sick to see their life given to the highest bidder. Things that were important to them but really didn't mean the same to us. You can't take it with you and really they are just "things". But sometimes those "things" are a small piece of our life puzzle. I always tell my kids if there is something they really like or want to please let me know..I'll either give it to them now, or label it for later when I'm pushing up roses! So far there doesn't seem to be a ton of my junk they are loving! Ha! Anyway, love the column!

  6. I have some of my dresses that I wore during the seventies. It's hard for me to believe that my old clothes are now considered vintage. I was just thinking last night that no one will understand how valuable some of my stuff is--full of memories and worth some $.


  7. So true...I often think about this myself, so I pass the stories on to my own grandchildren, nieces, and nephews every chance I get...who knows? One of them may remember a story or two!

  8. Hey Rick, I think we need to take a little time and write a letter telling at least a few history facts of a few treasures we own. So everything is not lost!! This has inspired me to make a point of this! Everything tells a story,story....
    Miss Roxy


Please consider sharing

Email Signup Form

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required