Book Review – Objects of Our Affection by Lisa Tracy

Title: Objects of our Affection: Uncovering my family’s past one chair, pistol and pickle fork at a time

Author: Lisa Tracy

Format: Hardback

Published: 2010

 

In this memoir, Lisa and her sister have to consolidate, sell, dispose of, or just generally displace several generations worth of stuff after their mother dies.  In doing so, Lisa starts evaluating her family’s history.

Okay, when I saw this memoir at the library, I jumped at the chance to check it out and immediately pushed it towards the top of my TBR list.  (Heck, I even took it out of my bedroom and into The Rest of the House, where it would be read sooner.)  I mean, we all have weird stuff somewhere in the house that we only keep because it was somebody’s.

Rght now, for instance [note, the review was written in December, I just didn’t run it till now], I’m looking at nesting dolls that my great-aunt-in-law Ginny gave me, ceramic plates featuring artwork from my Aunt Susan’s father, the Santa that my great-grandfather Nazareno gave me when I was two that still plays but no longer rolls or jiggles his arm, and the painting that was behind my grandparents – Ray and Joanne – ‘s piano for the longest time until we took it home and gave it new life.  I’m sitting on hand-me-down furniture that we’ve had for a decade and has been moved with us a couple times, and looking at the Nativity set that we’ve had since childhood – ceramic, Precious Moments, and bought from Avon with my mother’s 45% discount. There are family photos – grandparents, great-grandparents, my Uncle Kenny with his mouth hanging open stupidly when he was something like three.  Just yesterday, I added to it, hanging an enlargement of my Grandmother, myself, and the family dog, Maggie.  She was my Uncle Randy’s dog, but spent time with Gramma and Papa, and we treated her like another cousin.  Maggie’s been gone since spring of 2001, Gramma since thanksgiving of 2009.  I miss them both like crazy.

This is just one room.  We all have our stuff.

 

As I started to read the book, I started to feel a bit of Tracy’s family.  They were the fifth generation of military family, and could trace their roots back about as far as America goes.  The furniture and spoons, Canton China and packing blankets all told something, and as she went through piece by piece she told us some of these.  Life on the frontier, the 1000-lb limit her grandfather’s military position allowed them for their stuff, etc.

And some of it was extremely interesting.  She regularly talks about how almost-famous her family was.  Just one or two people removed from incredible in so many places.  So what we ended up seeing was a portrait of the upper-middle-class through the generations.

Unfortunately, book is a lot disjointed.  We get a secretary desk and then a family story from the Philippines in WWII and then a chair and a family story from the author’s childhood and then back to the china that they talk about a dozen separate times but never give us the full story of, so a partial story then, of the American West in the late 1800s.  We swap around from one person to the other, one side of the family to the other, and there’s no good way to tell them apart.  At least in my family, the Italians belong on one side, the rest on the other, so you know as soon as you see an Ursiti or Fracasso that we’re talking Gramma here.  So when there’s more than one person with the same first name, several people they call Grandma, whatever, you sit there going… erm, who is this again?

 

But what I never really felt in this was, well, feelings.  The catalyst for this memoir was going through the family’s stuff, and Lisa Tracy and her sister planned to auction a lot of stuff off.  So when they’re going through and deciding, we get stories, and then we get “well, this would get money at auction, so I should totally just auction it off, even though I want it and I remember the story and…”  Wait, what?  And there’s a point in the auction where a cousin comes to the auction to buy something.  The guy is named after the relative that used to own whatever it was that he bought, but he had to come to the auction to buy stuff?  Seriously?

Really, what I felt was that these were people that didn’t care about their family history.  People who were only interested in the here and now.  Heck, they didn’t even care that much about the furniture – they had originally put it in climate controlled storage, but when the storage company had to move it, they were fine with it ending up wherever.  Seriously?  You went to the trouble to climate control it in the first place, but didn’t care that stayed that way?

A lot of the research Tracy did was because the auction company said “if this can be traced back to somebody famous…”  so she’d research because, you know, more dollars at auction.

Maybe it’s the difference between the author and myself?  I mean, I can look at Santa and immediately tell you who Naz was, how he was related, where he died, how, stories about that, etc.  But the author of this book didn’t have a clue for a lot of stuff and it was just weird to me.  Behind me is a small secretary desk from my great-grandmother Delores.  She died six years before I was born, but I still know stories about her, how she died, where she was from, etc.  And if Lisa Tracy’s family found it important to pass down a secretary desk for four generations, why did it take trips to archives and old newspaper clippings to know anything about them?  I could have seen a story like “The old desk was big and heavy, but we kept it because it was so useful…”  but there weren’t stories like that.

 

In the end, I’m giving it a three.  If you like the little bits of military and American history you get from this, give it a go.  But if you’re looking for more than a sad comment about how Americans store stuff they never use and we don’t know why, just move on.  There’s better stuff out there.

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