I don’t remember the name of the saint whose statue was housed in a church in Antigua, Guatemala. I remember the soft, tarnished metal. The figure had obviously been touched over and over, maybe thousands of times. Its original polish had conceded to the demands of life as an object turned healer, giving way to the many hands, the exhaustive lists of supplications for recovery and rescue that had been placed upon it throughout the years.
Standing before this beloved statue made me realize exactly what I love about objects: it’s the tellingness. Hand-cut glass, buttery leather, a vintage motorcycle—these things all sing for someone. It just depends on who you are. Finding the perfect milk stout or full-bodied wine? Sister, I’ve been to the mountaintop.
In this vein, I’ve been thinking about the memory that objects leave and the life that strums along inside of them, even after the hands that touched them are gone. Subsequently, I’m thinking about Mary. Inaudible, inanimate and the most beautiful shade of pale blue – you should have looked for her in a royal haven for stately queens or a resplendent spot on the map. Clean beauty. Quiet charm.
As a tiny, weathered statue standing small in my grandparents’ backyard, she could be found in the middle of a tractor tire. Stained glass windows, silver chalices and knots of gold ceiling stars were all foreign to her environment. Mary was a tired, worn relic. Her tender existence never mimicked her usual iconic imagery: docile, reflective, serene.
Winter would have been the best time for a welcome reprieve for Mary, but any attempts to quiet the chaos were futile. At Christmas, I stood on the piano bench clutching Grandma’s hair in a death grip as she clanged on ivory keys. I elbowed my way through the masses of family members to peer over her shoulders, curl my toes under the edges of the bench, and heave carols from my chest. Outside, Mary watched the exuberant Nativity unfold. She followed the steady caravan of cars as they rolled in, one by one. She watched the windows get painted over with laughter, cocktails, and music as everyone inside clamored for the last bite and the last word.
In January, it will be a year since my grandma died. My mom and her seven sisters persist in wrangling us together now, shouldering hardships as a team and dancing with wild abandon. My cousins and I—the women I consider my best friends—carry on in our quest for the best cocktails. Grandma didn’t leave us empty handed—she left us each other.
And then too, there was Mary, still encircled in her tire in the garden. When we celebrated Grandma’s birthday at the farm this summer, I said goodbye to Mary. I thanked her for letting her color fade and for permitting the wonderful messiness of life to seep in. It was time to hand over the fatigue that accompanies indecision—to emancipate myself from self-imposed anxiety and expectation. Goodbye to all of that. Let loose, goddamnit. Break the plaster.
But even now, Mary’s got me thinking about the way the objects in our lives carry so much meaning, and I can’t tell which comes first: the tangible or intangible. Do we create objects to assign physicality to the emotional and cerebral? Or do objects precede an emotional response, helping to evoke a deep feeling or a vivid memory?
Maybe…it’s a bit of both.
Anna Hoeschen lives and writes (beautifully) in Minneapolis MN.