I love this piece by Robynn! I will explain more fully in the comments but if you are one that mixes samovars with reindeer, white lights with Egyptian perfume bottles, and Turkish bowls with books — in other words, if you mix all the cultures you love and feel a part of in the decorating of your home – then this post is for you! Enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago a new friend was over for a visit. She didn’t drink tea or coffee. She sipped from a glass of water while I snuggled with my tea-cup. It was distracting to me that she didn’t want a hot drink. All my true friends drink coffee or tea. How can the soul be properly steeped and infused with hope without the assistance of a hot beverage, a mug or a tea-cup, a smidgen of sugar, a drop of milk? Our time together came to an abrupt ending when she looked at the time and realized she needed to dash. Her son had an appointment and she was going to be late to go get him from school. As she stood and zipped up her coat, she looked around at my walls and shelves, and she said something that immediately erased my concerns about her beverage-lessness.
Some day I want to come and walk around your house and hear the stories of all your things.
She pointed at a painting from Pakistan on the wall, a wooden couple racing off into the night on a wooden camel, and an interesting mirror. Tears sprang to my eyes. It’s true. Each thing in my space has a story and rarely do I ever get to remember and bring to mind those memories. Very few people even ask. Knowing the stories of some of my stuff is knowing parts of my story, often the parts that are no longer seen or viable or relevant in the world I currently inhabit.
In the middle of a seemingly superficial Christmas novel, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past, by Sharyn McCrumb, I happened upon this poignant bit–The main character, Nora, has gone to see a house she used to frequent when she was young.
“Nora expected many changes and modernizations inside, and that was fine. The past was no place to live in. She just hoped the Havertys were not like some of the new people, the ones she thought of as displaced persons: people who had moved to the mountains of east Tennessee but seemed to think there were in New Mexico.
These confused newcomers decorated their houses in desert hues: sand colour, orange and turquoise. Navajo flute music played on the stereo, and desert scene artwork hung on the walls. Little bitty potted cacti passed for houseplants. Nora didn’t think that there was anything wrong with admiring New Mexico—…She did wonder why the folks who apparently loved the western desert country so much had tried to drag it all the way to Tennessee. Why didn’t they just move there, instead of sitting on a forested mountain in east Tennessee, pretending that they were out West. Nora really wanted to know why they did this, but she doubted that she ever would, being too polite to bring up the matter with the displaced people she hardly knew. Still, she supposed that their decor was none of her business; after all, the houses were theirs, not hers.”
It’s time for a true confession. I used to roll my eyes when I was a kid, at the missionaries who insisted on decorating their homes in a Better Homes and Gardens style with no reference to the country in which they had chosen to settle. There was no Pakistan within their walls. You could have walked into some of those homes and wondered if you were in Illinois or in Mongolia. There was nothing to connect you with the region. Those homes felt odd to me. It was like they were floating, strange sky islands, ungrounded. What was even more disconcerting to my young adolescent mind was the number of other expatriate women who would walk into those homes and ooh and aah. Those houses, which seemed so ridiculously out of place, meant something to these other women. They reminded them of other places, other times. Nostalgia and memory greeted them as they arrived into these homes.
In contrast, my favourite houses were the ones that blended the beauties of Pakistan and the beauties of Canada or the UK, the United States or Australia. Those home-makers had, at a heart level, come to appreciate their new country of residence. Pastel greens and lavenders were juxto positioned next to rich reds, deep blues and turquoises. Arm chairs sat next to mordahs (low level stools). Kashmiri carpets graced the floor. These homes reflected homemakers who had decided to settle. They chose to make themselves at home.
But now here I am–a foreigner choosing to put roots down, determining to live in this place, purposing to be at home here. I look around at my home and I realize I’ve brought other places with me too. I am afraid I’m one of those displaced persons and my decorating style reflects that. My things come from other parts.
I regret the strength of my cynicism when I was a kid. I had no idea what those women, young and middle-aged, were up against. In those days I had no clue what it meant to be uprooted. I was just a kid living out her childhood. Now I know better. Now I know how hard it is. It takes a long time to integrate your old self into your new space. And really, if we’re honest, some of us find it harder than others. I may never switch out my Pakistani things for Pier One Import’s equivalent. I doubt I’ll trade in my beloved Indian treasures for very many pretties from Hobby Lobby.
When we were first moving in to this new home I spent a great deal of time setting out knick knacks and trinkets and moving them around. I couldn’t decide how I wanted things. At one point my mother in law came into the room to appreciate my efforts. She looked around the room slowly, and she observed warmly, “You have a lot of things from Pakistan and India.” She was right. I do. This is me–a displaced person with an odd assortment of trinkets from misplaced parts of me.
You’re welcome to come over any time. I’ll make you a hot drink (or you can have water!) and if we have time we can talk about that painting from Pakistan.
What about you? How have you incorporated your old self into your new space? Would love to hear from you in the comments – stories of displaced decorating!