Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Temporary Permanence

We have a Mazda that will not die. It is the most intrepid, dependable, gutsy automobile we have ever had. In its new state, it was quite beautiful – classy and black with grey-blue leather interior (and we thought we were very cool with our first ever leather interior). The lease company let us pretty much write the description of the car we coveted, and they went out and found it. Wahoo!

In 1996, when we leased the car, we expected to trade it in three years and move on to a bigger and better mode of transportation. When the lease expiration rolled round three years later, we gasped when we realized how far over the mileage limitation we had taken that car. It had a couple of long family vacation trips under its belt and it had to take one or the other of us to work every day. Both of us had lengthy commutes. Accumulated miles are the kind of things you can get complacent about and oblivious to how fast the ticker is ticking. It was Beth’s last year of high school. If you’ve been there, you know how much that year costs! We didn’t have the ready cash to pay the thousands owed to turn the car back in, so we just signed a handy note and commenced paying toward ownership. A couple of years later, in the novel position of having a paid-off car, we decided that trendy was not worth a new car payment, so we just kept driving the Mazda, and watched the miles click by with smug smiles.

I must admit that now, lo these 13 years into the relationship, there are a few nicks on the doors. There is a small smudge of mysterious yellow paint on the back left fender – the approximate color of parking garage pylons (neither of us remembers the event that planted that color indelibly on our car). Some of the rubber stuff around the back window came loose, and when the slight flutter flap began to annoy me, I just cut it off. There was no apparent leakage. Oh, the worst thing is that the air conditioner began a low groan , which led to a definite cough, which led to hot air emitting even when the dial was turned to the coldest setting. This came closest to being a deal-breaker. But, even in Texas, hot air blowing on my face is small payment when the alternate payment would be cash going to some financial institution. Recently, I began hearing a new hard-to-isolate sound that to my non-mechanical ears sounds a bit alarming, and upon stopping at a light or stop sign, the body shudders a bit until you let it relax in neutral. Then it purrs happily. Though it fell from the lofty position of being the family's major automobile, I have developed real affection for this enduring member of our crew.

Sharing this little car story is prelude to sharing a realization. Often things that I thought were temporary, that I considered stand ins for the real thing, have become permanent fixtures in my life. Much of what we own, I bought thinking I would one day rid myself of the used stuff and buy better new stuff. There are occasional chairs all over the house that don’t match; a desk from the 30s in our bedroom that came with dust so far embedded in cracks, it will never come out; a rough pine box/trunk at the end of the bed that some might even call wretched; a barrister’s bookcase that will no longer relinquish what resides on the bottom shelf, so very stuck is the door; an elderly table missing about two inches of carved edging from the day I bought it (hence the significant markdown), a colorful pottery lamp snatched at a New Jersey swap sale with the single word “Italy” on the bottom; and a kitchen table which is a butcher block balanced without nails on a sewing machine bottom with its original wheel and treadle system that is very tempting to move with your feet. (Creaking and whirring often accompany a lingering conversation after a meal.) These are just a few examples. There are certainly more throughout our house.

Over the years, many of the things acquired for temporary service have turned out to form the context of my life. I have no disdain for them. I’m not looking to replace them now. They've become our history markers. Actually, the process of scrounging developed in me a love for the scars of life on almost anything I buy. I now always gravitate toward something that displays its experience.

This doesn’t mean I never replace anything – like the pots and pans we got when we were married that burned and scalded most everything I cooked for many years. It didn’t hurt my feelings to get rid of them. But, they taught me something while they were around for those 20-odd years. I kinda got used to cooking on low heat rather than high like my Type A personality might lead me to do (I’m a Type B in training!). They slowed me down a bit.

The surprise in all this is that life just rolls right along. You are almost never able to develop a linear plan that doesn’t take jigs and jags on its way toward things being just like you want them. Purchases are delayed and change deferred until, well, you can't remember why you wanted the change in the first place. If you're lucky, you will learn to relax right where you are, with whatever you have at the time. The day may come when you can move into a bigger house, buy more expensive stuff, acquire higher quality (antiques vs junk) – or it may not. You instead may find one day that you have acquired quite a taste for the imperfections that give depth to those things surrounding you and by association lend depth to your life.


lucylocket said...

I'm so glad you're back!

Dutchbaby said...

I love this post. I can relate to so much of it. I have hand-me-down furniture I always thought I'd replace, yet now I've decorated around them. I've also upholstered a sofa around the paint color I was not 100% happy with. I find when I think I have to make a permanent choice, I sometimes become paralyzed under the pressure.

The image of unseen feet pumping the treadle under the table is enchanting.

Anonymous said...

Oh, such wisdom in these words! You know as a youngish married person, I definitely dream of the day I can buy the couch of my choosing, pick out a new-ish car - but I know that I will always feel attached to the bits and pieces we've acquired so far. Not the Wal-Mart bookshelves, though!

I can't believe you've dealt without A/C in Texas. You are such a trooper!

Anonymous said...

I so love this post! It describes so much of who you are...and reminds me why I am the way I am! You have taught me a love of those old castaways (in fact, our whole house is full of your castaways!)

And please don't ever get rid of that butcher block table and sewing machine bottom! That's my history!

paris parfait said...

I love old things with nicks and marks and imperfections. Give me something old over something new any day (well, except when it comes to technology. Then, the newer, the better! :) xo