Maybe it’s because of the first snow here in the foothills north of Santa Fe, but my mind is turning to the importance of tiny little things.
As all the big, even monstrous things push in around us, tiny little things assume an iconic importance—like the chickadees outside my studio window hastily picking up seeds before they are covered by the snow.
I have some of the tiny things I was given when I was a child, and although there is good reason to believe that at this point in life it is wise to “put away childish things”—obsessions, grudges, pointless indulgences—the value of the collection I keep on the top of my bureau seems suddenly, mysteriously clear.
There’s the flowered, thimble-sized china tureen I first saw as part of a set in a cardboard box in the Paris flea market when I was twelve—the flea market then was a real flea market, full of dismal cast-offs, not the glamorous repository it has since become. I don’t remember how much the little dinner set cost, probably not much, but more francs than I had in my pocket. A little sheepishly—I was supposed to be too old for such toys—I asked for it that Christmas. It came, in its shabby worn cardboard box, having been played with hard during those bleak war-time winters. And it has stayed with me ever since, through dozens of moves, when more appropriate grown-up china was cast aside, broken, or forgotten. Today it reminds me of the value of what is small, and perhaps because it is so small, endures.
Then there’s the silver coffee pot, about as tall as a matchstick, that someone gave me at about the same time. The silver is tarnished, and the hinge of the coffee pot’s lid has broken off, yet the tiny thing conveys its own elegance. It may have come from one of my Virginia relatives; it seems to speak of that old-time religion of ritual and denial.
My eldest granddaughter knit the little change purse many years after the flea market and that bleak winter in Paris; she has always been the apple of my eye, and now the pair of tiny Chinese horses I gave her years ago sit on a shelf in her Harlem apartment. I would hesitate to say that she carries my dreams of social justice forward—her life and her choices are her own—but the little change purse reminds me of how close and deep our connection is. The first grandchild in any family always bears the seed, the hope of the future, especially when that grandchild is a girl.
Today my local newspaper is full of horrors, as it always is these days, and even the sex-advice columnist in our weekly freebie complains that it’s no fun to write anymore because everyone already knows everything about the devices on which he used to expatiate (each one has an internet site), to the amazement of some of his readers. It seems unlikely that any of us could be amazed, now, by any of those revelations.
But we can still be amazed by smallness and its concurrent simplicity. It doesn’t have to be shiny balls on a defunct Christmas tree. It can be what has accumulated over the years in your top drawer, all that you kept meaning to throw out, but somehow kept through move after move after move.
The seeds of the past. The seeds of the future.