Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Soliloquy-- Inanimate Storytellers

Are you the type of person who steps into an old house and a shiver runs up your spine because you can hear the bricks and beams whispering to you, telling you of all the stories they have to tell?

Are you the type of person who walks into an antique shop and becomes mesmerized by the shimmer of light on a hundred-year-old piece of cut glass? Do you stand there running a finger gently along its curves, wondering about the dinner parties it's graced?

Do your hands lovingly caress an old leatherbound book, wondering how many people have opened it and read its pages?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it sounds to me like you've fallen victim to inanimate storytellers. I ought to know; I answered yes to all three! I can even tell you when I fell victim to this phenomenon, and--as usual--a book triggered it all.

As an only child and an only grandchild, I was gathering quite the collection of dolls. (When I was six, I donated almost all of them to an organization helping needy children.) The back porch in our small apartment was glassed in, and Mom turned it into my playroom. With my imagination, I really didn't play "house" with my dolls; we all went on adventures in different time periods and different countries. Seeing this, Mom found the perfect fourth birthday present for me: Rachel Field's Hitty Her First Hundred Years.

Now this was my kind of doll! She had all sorts of adventures: a crow stole her and took her up to its nest, she went on a whaling ship and was shipwrecked, she spent some time with missionaries in Asia...I was hooked and have loved the book ever since.

My grandmother made me my own "Hitty". She was named Lucy and had a china head, arms and feet...and a complete wardrobe of nightgown, shirtwaist and skirt, everyday dress, traveling outfit, and a ball gown. It wasn't unusual for Lucy to ride in the basket of my bicycle when I rode out into the country for new adventures. I'd show her to you, but she's packed away in storage.

A few years later, my grandmother began collecting antique dolls. Here she is with part of her collection.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos; they're scans of old slides. Almost every doll you see was dressed by my grandmother from the "skin" out. She was an incredibly talented lady. I'd watch her research clothing and time periods, sketch out patterns, cut the fabric, and sew the costumes, using tiny buttons, tucks, beads and bits of lace. I learned how old many of the dolls were, and I can remember wondering if they'd had adventures like Hitty. Surely they had.

When my grandmother began doing work on our family tree, she spent a lot of time visiting the older members of our family to record their memories. In a few cases, she'd return home with heirlooms, like Kate and Martha who have been in our family for well over one hundred years.

Kate and Martha are still in their original dresses, and I would imagine that they still have many family secrets that they've neglected to tell me. (Yes, they live with me now.)

Yes, Hitty made me believe in inanimate storytellers, and I believe that they are all around me. All I have to do is look and listen.

What are some of your inanimate storytellers? I'd love to know!


  1. You are lucky to have so many treasures from the past. I have been a vagabond all my life, so a lot of my things have been discarded in moves.

  2. This is such a beautiful post. The dolls are so lovely! I fall victim to inanimate storytellers, too. Antiques get me all the time, but for me the most vivid are lighted apartment windows we see as we drive down the major highway into the city at night. I feel their stories calling out to me every time.

  3. Yes was my answer to all three as well :). Oh I read Hitty as a kid too! My inanimate storyteller is a small jewlery box that was the last thing my grandmother gave me which is full of all kinds of trinkets things from feathers of parrots we used to have, coins from all over- some my mom has had ever since she was little, a beaded friendship pin my 3rd grade class made, little plastic ballerinas that were on my mom's and mine's birthday cakes, and much more. :)

  4. Super post. I loved seeing the photos. I vaguely remember Hitty -- I'll have to ask my mom if she remembers the book.

  5. Cathy - I absolutely loved this post! Inanimate storytellers...what a great phrase. I routinely stop at abandoned houses and look at the wallpaper and wonder at the person who made that choice. We live in a 130 yr old house and found stuff in the walls and under floorboards - shoes, toys, newspapers. A metal detectore in the yard has turned up forks and plates. Fixing the foundation found old bottles. My house is filled with ( as my daughter calls it ) old stuff. ( She's not a fan)I love thinking where they've been before...

  6. You have such a wonderful legacy - both animate and inanimate. This was such a lovely post with great memories.

    Yes, I am an inanimate storyteller too. In antique stores it's the linens that talk to me. The ones that have been done by hand - embroidery, etc. I'm like Belle in that I think of stories as I drive/walk by lighted windows. It's like seeing part of a picture in a book and I want to know the rest of the story.

    Thanks again for such a beautiful post.

  7. Kathy--Yes, I know how lucky I am, although I have passed along many things that have been given to me over the years. I'm just trying to hang on to the ones that are most important to me!

    Belle--YES, YES, YES to those lighted windows! I do the exact same thing!!!

    Jen--That jewelry box sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing that with us!

    Beth--I'm so glad to see that some of you have memories of Hitty, too!

    Luanne--I think you and I would get along quite well together rambling through old houses! (And I would love to hear more about your own house!)

    Margot--You're welcome. Linens speak to me, too. I have a huge crocheted tablecloth made by my great-great-grandmother, as well as other embroidered/tatted/crocheted items that have been handed down over the years. They are very special to me.


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