The Inherited Object Revisited
“Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps a patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way that this netsuke of a fox has become little more than a memory of a nose and a tail. But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing, and the way the leaves of my medlar shine.”
Among the things I inherited from my parents are many objects, that they in turn inherited from their parents. Many are objects for which the stories are no longer known and many for which the details are slim. I visited this object a few years back and made many discoveries but a closer look just now has yielded a few new ones.
What I knew:
My Grandfather served in France in WWI
This water resistant book cover was with him in France
It covers his self-published book of Poetry “Artifacts” (1967)
But not just a copy of that book but his personal copy with his notes.
So what I knew is both the cover and the book were cherished possessions of my grandfather, Milo and my father and finally me. The many comments and annotations inside are illuminating and when I read them I hear my grandfather’s voice. I can watch his mind at work. Upon reflecting the cover covers something of value—but that belies the covers intrinsic value. Take note.
For the longest time I really did not pay close attention to the cover. And when I did I noted the cross and the Fleur de Lis and I looked up the meaning of “Voici La France” as “Here is France. ” And finally when I turned the cover over it dawned on me that these were all places in France. Duh!
So I made a list of the places and started to plot them out on a Google Map.
And then I found a copy of the History of Army Artillery Park which was the unit to which he was assigned as a medic and all the places matched. Mystery solved! This was a record of all the places Milo had been in France during WWI. So this simple waterproofed canvas cover may have held something else long ago that has not survived and of which that story died with my grandfather…and yet this object held a few more surprises.
A closer look this time I see that not only is there a cross with a Fleur de lis, but the cross resides atop what looks to be a grave or burial mound. What is the story here? A friend lost in battle?—a universal remembrance of the fallen? I do not know. But if combined with “Here is France”, a grave with a cross and “Fleur de Lis” perhaps it says in France —here is death, here is a remembrance. Lest you think I am off the mark here, return to the back cover and note four hourglass shapes. I do not think these are an accident. The hourglass is a symbol that human life is fleeting, and that the sands of time can and will run out at anytime for any of us. And never more poignantly does that become truth for an eighteen year old soldier in France.
And then finally at the bottom of the back cover is written “L’enfin de le Guerre” translated “The End of the War”. What more personal and poignant treasure or talisman of his youth spent as a medic caring for the injured, dying and dead in France in 1917 than this modest piece of canvas inscribed with the places he would remember forever.
Each family object was saved for a reason. Each object has a story. Some can be discerned, some can be discovered but each deserves our attention. “Perhaps a patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed.”
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved