Friday, February 5, 2010

market tote, 1949

The other day I finally got around to renting and viewing the film Julie and Julia, which overall I enjoyed.

The costumes, props, and set decor in the 1949 segments of the film were done unusually well, especially given the Hollywood propensity for reimagining other eras to increase their aesthetic appeal to modern eyes. The art department went to some trouble to correctly portray a time and place.

In one scene, Meryl Streep is shopping in Paris, carrying a...

It made me scream. My husband almost choked on his popcorn, he was so startled by my outcry.

"That-- that basket!"

I began pointing wordlessly at the screen, gesticulating, practically sputtering.

She was carrying a metal-framed collapsible canvas shopping basket, what I now realize is called a market tote, with navy, yellow, red, and white stripes. It was absolutely identical to something my parents (who got married in 1952) had when I was a child. It's been gone from my life, and my consciousness, for decades.

There are many objects from my past I remember vividly, but there's only so much room in there and some things fall away. If not for that movie, I feel quite certain I would never have remembered that particular object. And yet once I could see it again, it was as familiar anything could possibly be.

If we'd kept it for some reason, it would be like the ubiquitous, infamous penguin ice bucket, an object that has retained it's presence in my life, gradually transforming from a household item into a personal historic icon. But because that humble market tote fell away from the continuum of my life and then turned up right before my eyes a lifetime later-- or for reasons I may never understand-- it created an especially strong emotional response.

In one form or another, this is what it is to have photo albums, to collect things, to go to certain kinds of museums and look with the delight of recognition at ephemera from the past. It means the past isn't gone, not really... both our personal histories and those we share.

Keeping certain objects close, we carry the past with us. Collecting replacements, we reconstruct it, validate it. We take an old dream and eventually fullfill it to a level beyond anything we imagined; we rescript the story with a better, more sastifying ending.

When the past re-emerges from nowhere, when an object appears as if by magic, it can stop us in our tracks with its power.

What happened to that steel-framed canvas basket? Was it a wedding gift? My parents must have used it. Did it eventually get rusty in our garage? At what point did either my mother or father donate it to the Salvation Army? I phoned my father as soon as the closing credits finished rolling; he doesn't seem to remember the details, although he vaguely remembered the item.

So I'll never know. But there is was, evidence up on the movie screen although of what precisely, it's hard to say. I'm tempted to say the experience, as with all such experiences, affords the illusion of cheating time.

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Robin said...

I especially enjoyed your word choice and the sequencing of the article.

brenda cox giguere said...

Thanks, Robin. Those little stories almost write themselves when they're about something personal that we care about, as this is.

It's official: This will be the year I blog regularly instead of intermittently. Having a couple of people reading it helps my incentive. Thanks again.