Friday, September 28, 2012

Every Object Tells A Story

A movie theater ticket, bent and misshapen, a swatch of a baby blanket, soft and weathered from hundreds of washings and years of cuddling, a teacup handle, gilt-edged and hairline-cracked. These may all be useless items to most people, but what they represent to others can fill tomes, and then some. They are silent story tellers, waiting for their tales to be unraveled--and its up to their owners to do the telling.

BPA, bisphenol A, bisphenol, what is bisphenol a, what is BPA, is BPA harmful, products with BPA, bpa free, bpa contamination, bpa disease, bpa receiptI once saw a report on the news about a woman who meticulously saved all of her receipts in a box for five years. At the five-year mark, she went through them and felt as though she were looking at a five-year encapsulation of her life. Through these receipts she knew what she ate, when she was dieting (and when she wasn’t). They helped her remember old boyfriends and what she wore on some dates, classes she took, and books she read. When I first heard that, I remember thinking she was a little crazy. After all, there are much simpler and more thorough ways of chronicling one’s life than trying to decipher the flotsam and jetsam on a bunch of crumpled up, faded cash register receipts. And once the information is collated, you then have to read into what it actually symbolizes.

Well, I thought the idea was nutty until I went through an old handbag that I hadn’t used since I relocated from California.... 

Amidst the detritus at the bottom of the bag: some old pieces of gum--with and without the wrappers, sixty cents in spare change, a half-empty tube of sunscreen, a prescription I never filled, and a few now-spent pens, were a slew of receipts. 

Since I moved, anything from my past has become Smithsonian-worthy to me, so rather than chuck the receipts, I decided to put them in piles and go through them. And with each one I glanced at I began to understand just what that “cuckoo” woman meant. I know that people save receipts for business and tax purposes, but they’re looking at the bottom line--the total.  Once they’re done with them, they get tossed or stapled to some expense report. There is not one iota of sentimentality attached to those pieces of paper. To those owners, they signify money, or the loss of it. I was approaching these receipts as bits and pieces of my past life. And when I looked at it that way, those origami-like folded slips of paper took on a whole new level of importance. 

There were various receipts from restaurants in and around Calabasas and Los Angeles, where I used to live. One from the middle of March reminded me of a dinner our group of friends had at a local Italian restaurant celebrating my friend Julie’s birthday. We were a loud group, as usual, and Julie gave out bags of her famous mandel bread as party favors. I remembered having just come from an open house at a nearby clothing store where they were kind enough to feature my candy and help me promote my business. I ate a tuna tower. I gleaned all that from one little receipt!

In amongst the grocery receipts--that pile was the largest--was one from Henry’s Market. On that day, I purchased, among other things, bell peppers, lettuce, eggplant, chicken breasts, and sun-dried tomato turkey sausage. The date was sometime in May. May was great because everyone was home in May. Probably did some grilling that very night. My family loved Henry’s sausages--they were all homemade. I would usually grill some up while I was grilling chicken and veggies. My boys and my husband would have those sausages with some coarse mustard--it helped them wait a little more patiently for the rest of the meal to be cooked. Through all this the dog would be running around trying to snipe something, anything, that would fall on the floor. Just one receipt brought me back to that place.

Amongst some purchases on a Bloomingdale’s receipt was a purse for which I used a coupon. I remember the purse--it was sage green, and it had lots of pockets. It was perfect for my upcoming trip to Italy. I was leaning towards the yellow purse in the same style and my friend Kathy said, “go with the green,” so I did.  Every few months Kathy and I would meet for lunch and then go shopping. She is one of the few friends I have that will share a dressing room with me. We’ve seen each other naked enough times that it doesn’t really matter. And quite often, she’ll try something on and say, “this would look better on you.” And sometimes it does, and sometimes what I’ve got on will look better on her. But always, no matter where we go, Kathy will say, “Wait, I’ve got a coupon!” And on that day, she did, and the green handbag was my constant companion in Italy. (If you’ve seen any of my photos from that trip, you’ve seen the bag!)

Before my trip to Turkey this past May, I tried to read some books that would give me a feel for the country. One in particular, The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, was a wonderful story about two families, one aristocratic and one lower class, who lived in Istanbul during the 60s. It is a tale of love, betrayal, and obsession, and explores a culture not often dealt with in novels that I have read. On another, even more interesting level, the book also deals with mementos and their preservation. 

Throughout the years, the main character secrets away everyday items that are meaningful to him--buttons, handkerchiefs, hair clips, an earring. Random objects, so insignificant that their disappearance is not even noticed. But to him they represent years and years of memories--shards of his heart and soul. So precious are they to him that he creates a museum devoted to these "treasures," and invites anyone else who would care to donate mementos of their own to do so. The irony in all of this is that life has imitated art--the author has actually created a real museum that mirrors the one in the book. It is located in an Istanbul townhouse, and has been described not so much as a museum, but as a “story den.” I unfortunately, did not get to the museum while we were in Turkey, but I certainly understand it’s significance. 

We are surrounded by stories--every object we see is a part of one, and if taken to the extreme, every object can be elevated to being a museum-quality piece. Even if it’s merely for a museum in your mind.

The saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but it should really be, “One man’s trash can also be his history.” I must admit that I have not, as the character in my book who has been overtaken by madness, relegated any of my receipts to a museum, but they and the motley crew of items that were hiding at the bottom of my purse, did give me a glimpse into a forgotten period of my life. I didn’t learn anything earthshaking about myself, but it was nice diversion...and a nice blast from the past.


  1. Years ago one of my boyfriends was meticulous about saving our movie ticket stubs, grocery lists, etc. I saved everything for the two years that we were together. I still have the box of yellowed and fraying memorabilia, and it is a fun trip down memory lane to go through it now.

    1. Helene, I still have a business card that once belonged to an old boyfriend. He had taped a genuine four-leaf clover to the back of the card. How can I throw that away? Don't tell my husband. :)


  2. Nice post. It is funny what cues different people's memories!
    My Mother gave me some of her old purses that are fabulous. In them I have found lipstick from the 1950's, combs, hankies, matchbooks from various restaurants and weddings. Remember when engraved matchbooks were done with napkins for a wedding?

    1. Haralee, I do remember that! I love going to vintage stores and looking at antique purses. While some people might think it creepy, I like it because you never know what you might find inside. Most often they are empty, but every once in a while something is there, and it allows you to build an entire story about the person to whom it once belonged.

  3. Oh this is so great!!! We do recreate our lives in these receipts. I do it all the time when I change purses. As this is not such a frequent occurance, I find really old receipts! I also find the lip glosses I've missed, earplugs and concert tickets! I love, love, love the details in this story!!