Stuff as Story

I watched Judge Judy the other day with the woman I help care for. The episode was a particularly bizarre one, or rather, it was one of the judge’s more bizarre rulings. The case itself was rather simple. A woman was moving, and she had three things she wanted to get rid of. The man who was helping her move knew someone who wanted those items, and with the woman’s permission, the man gave the keys to his friend to remove those items from the woman’s basement. Somehow, he got his wires crossed and ended up telling the friend he could take anything from basement. So the friend cleared out several things the woman wanted to keep. He also somehow broke her grandmother’s China, a cherished legacy.

Judy told her she didn’t have a case against the man’s friend, because the man was acting as her representative, and he had given him permission to take the stuff. Then she dismissed the case. “But what about my grandmother’s China,” the woman wailed. Judy waved her off with a curt, “It’s just things.”

That took me aback. Things are never just things. To a certain extent, stuff is story. After a certain age, it seems, everything we own is imbued with its own story.

For example, earlier I was using a paring knife, and every time I use this particular knife, I am reminded of the story of how I ended up with that particular utensil. Jeff and I had made an excursion to Walmart, which was about thirty miles from where we lived. As we wandered the aisles, we came across a sign with an offer for a free knife. The knife giveaway would be in a couple of minutes, so Jeff continued shopping, and I waited to get the knife. Once a crowd had gathered, the shill started his spiel. It was like one of those television commercials, where he demonstrates all the things the knife (part of a set) would cut — things no one in their right mind would ever think of cutting with a knife. After more than five minutes of this, I got bored and started edging away. The shill saw me, feigned surprise that anyone would walk away from his speech, and said asked me to give him another minute. So I stayed. He started in on the next part of that “television commercial,” the part where they tell you the price for the whole set, then tell you all the other things that come with the deal. And that’s not all!! You also get this and that.

Angry at the fellow for wasting my time, feeling like a fool for letting him waste all that time. I finally got the knife. “You lied,” I told him. “You said the knife was free.”

“It is free,” he insisted.

“No,” I countered. “It’s not free. It cost me at least fifteen minutes of my life.”

That might not be an interesting story, but it is the story connected to the knife. Everything I have has a story. China from a relative. Furniture from various friendly sources. My car represents, which represents fifty years of stories. A sewing machine that’s almost as old and has almost as many stories. A set of Melmac dishes my mother got at a Safeway giveaway and gave me for Christmas when I was a child. (The story of those dishes is here: My Life as Told by a Set of Dishes)

Stories. All stories.

Admittedly, most of my stuff is merely utilitarian and isn’t worth anything to anyone but me. The stories, too, have meaning only for me.

I’m sure it was the same with that woman’s grandmother’s China. All those stories that had accumulated over the decades were broken along with the dishes, and she was offered no compensation because the dishes were just things.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

6 Responses to “Stuff as Story”

  1. Marion Marchetto Says:

    I loved this blog post. It is so true that every ‘thing’ has a story to tell. Some good, some bad, but stories nonetheless. Sadly the woman standing before Judge Judy received no compassion for her loss. How does one really put a dollar figure on the loss of an item that brings back memories? We have many items in our house like your paring knife and each has indeed cost us something. What an lovely, insightful post. Thank you.

  2. Constance J Koch Says:

    Great story with lots of meaning.
    I have had to scale down in my move. It is very difficult. I have items from my Grandmother and Mother that cannot be replaced. It does not matter about the value, it is the memories that are important to me.

    I feel so sorry for the lady. It is heartbreaking for her.

  3. Uthayanan Says:

    Good post about the nature of attachment and detachment.
    I have appreciated the lady’s calm and serenity attitude. I am going to have my own experience this year or next year. As far as I am still very weak and confused I need some time to think and decide.
    After her I started to think If I loose something nothing important.

  4. SheilaDeeth Says:

    I love that tagline “stuff is story.” I have boxes of memories, and family tell me it’s time to get rid of the junk.

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