Dowdy with Dust
I’ve lived in my house going on twenty-seven years, long enough that some everyday objects had become dull and downright dowdy with dust. Dust accrues, and in the last few years, I recognized how it had started to fill in the pleats of the lampshades on what I call “the new lamps,” because they’re the newest we have, purchased sometime in the last century.
Once a week, I pay someone who’s much better at housework than I am to dust, vacuum, scrub and scour. Once a week, when the house is serene with cleanliness, I notice how dusty the lampshades are and think, “I should either clean or replace them.”
Cleaning the pleats appears arduous, and even if successful, the shades would just be beige, which seemed like a good idea in the mid-nineties. But replacing them would require finding a lighting store with a wide selection of lampshades, which probably means driving most of three hours to Boston. If I’m going to go to Boston, I’d rather go to the Museum of Fine Arts, eat someone else’s ethnic cooking, and stop at H Mart for ingredients to cook Asian food at home. But shopping for lampshades? Not my thing.
Practical Works of Art
Meanwhile, when my neighbor Christine Triebert shifted from a career as a fine art photographer, she started manipulating digital images of stones and grasses with which she makes decorative pillows, floor cloths, and custom lampshades. Chris and Carol Ross are the creatives behind Rock River Studios. I’ve admired these practical works of art for several years, and I now own four. Once we replaced the two pleated shades, all the others in the room showed their age, so we replaced those as well. I also own and use several pieces of Carol’s functional pottery.
Collaborating with Chris on the design was delightful, and now when I look at the lamps, I don’t see dust, I see beauty. But I see something else as well.
A Grayer Shade of Pale
One of my earliest childhood memories is the arrival of two brass jugs that my parents turned into living room lamps. The shades were raw silk lined with plain fabric that was white in 1960. By 2009, the shades were a grayer shade of pale, and the linings were frayed.
By then, my parents were old and had moved into a swank retirement village. Their best, most-iconic, mid-century furniture made the spacious, two-bedroom apartment feel like home, with the dining room set, gold velvet sofa, glass coffee table, and brass lamps. Nevertheless, there was no denying, their lives, like their home, had shrunk.
I’m not yet as old as they were when I noticed the condition of the shades, which Mom insisted were “just fine,” surprising in someone who had been justifiably house-proud. Besides, it was no three-hour drive to a lighting store to replace them; they lived within minutes of innumerable places to buy home furnishings. I offered to help Mom replace the lampshades, but she adamantly refused, denying there was anything the matter with these sixty-year artifacts whose silk was friable.
Resistance to Change
It was this resistance to change that I remembered about Mom’s aging, a resistance I recognized in my initial inertia to do anything about my own lampshades.
I also recognize that interior decoration is a first-world issue. So is living to an advanced age. I’m not there yet. If I live long enough, I’m sure I will suffer some of the same indignities of old age my parents did. But replacing lampshades is my small act of defying one tiny aspect of aging.
It’s curious how simple, quotidian objects can accrue such density of meaning. I could say so much more about my parents’ lamps, my memories, and the lamps in my living room, but I’ll stop here and ask you:
Is there an object that you take for granted—until you don’t, and memory floods in? What is the object, and what’s the story that bubbles up?