Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Posterity


Recently, a cousin found a gift registry in a casual family archive and handed it over. It appears to be a few pages from the back of an ordinary notebook used to record who brought which offerings to the reception of a post Pearl Harbor wedding, when ceremonies were often hastily organized under stressful conditions. 

The few minutes spent examining the list was worth a quarter’s study of design. Once I recovered from reading the names and seeing the signatures, I could consider the gifts themselves. My mother had told me that during the war, the usual domestic amenities were in very short supply and high-end artifacts unobtainable. I read the inventory as a list of materiale diverted from a vital mission. No doubt some of the silver artifacts were donated from personal collections. It is a pitiful inditement of Forties culture that a clothes iron was considered a domestic priority.

Two gifts stand out as lasting, relevant, and deeply meaningful to a child of the house. The first was the first item on the list, a pair of wooden trays. They worked every day for at least thirty years. I loved to handle them. They were birch plywood with molded rims, exquisite balance, and a graceful, unpretentious non-skid decorative inlay apparently steamed onto the handle areas. I had always perceived them as utilitarian. In retrospect I believe they were influenced by the revolutionary featherweight molded splint that was Ray and Charles Eames’ contribution to the war effort. Clearly they were the most technologically advanced domestic artifacts of my youth.

The second was a cookie jar. It was a surprise to discover that the pot of treats at the end of the daily rainbow had been a wedding gift, and a gift of a female ensign at that. I wish I’d known her. The jar was on the small side, thick tubby porcelain with a lid whose distinctive clink my mother could hear a block away, although I often thought she was deaf. My brother silenced the lid with a stout rubber band that stayed in place until I lost track of the jar.

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