Friday, October 30, 2009

The Little Teapot Who Needed a Home

I honestly think it's a mistake to teach young children to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. It can be really hard to unteach this whole "inanimate objects have feelings" thing.

I was immersed in all the usual kids' stories about The Little Engine That Could, and The Brave Little Steam Shovel and all that. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years was one godawful tearjerker. Apparently most kids outgrow the idea that manmade objects have feelings. But for some of us -- and I don't think it's very emotionally healthy -- it lives on. There's a child-mind alternate reality that my rational adult mind seems to maintain like an archive, in which everything around me has emotions. Stuffed animals. An old worn shirt. My grandparents' 1950's radio.

Sure, there's an emotional connection with people we love, which kind of gets conducted through something that they used and loved, but I can't seem to break myself of the habit of crediting the objects themselves with having emotions.

My rational mind knows that, for example, a lovely old clock in a junk shop is really just composed of gears and wires and glass formed in a factory. But back there in my Childhood Mind, there's this ghastly little kiddie tale taking shape, of The Little Clock Nobody Wanted.

It's awful. Life has enough real heart-tugging stories. Heck, any animal shelter has plenty of them, and those inmates really do have feelings.

The metaphor could get out of hand but if I picture my mind as a house, with different functions and activities happening in its various rooms, this lingering childhood part of it is like the mudroom in almost every way:

It's messy and organized (if you can call it that) by momentary feeling rather than with Mr. Spock-like logic; I kick this off here, I fling that wherever. It's not served by the heating/cooling system of the house; instead it experiences all the highs and lows of my emotional weather. No pretty wallpaper hides the raw beams and no decorative furniture conceals mud-spattered jackets or dirty shoes. In the mudroom, life's grit and grime have not been cleaned up. It's definitely not part of the house tour.

I'd truly like to quit empathizing with objects, but some part of my psyche got arrested in its development. My rational thinking is alive and well and I do manage to call it up, but it has not banished the magical kid-thinking. Maybe that makes me a better writer. I sure hope it serves me in some way.

So we're in this antique shop day before yesterday, and they have a 75% -off shelf. And on that shelf is a pretty little teapot, date unknown.

When I looked closer, I could see that it was, of all things, an electric teapot. With a heating element built in.

Now that I've researched it, I find that these teapots are very common. They're the precursors of those tinny little hotpots we had in the college dorm. There were and are lots of them around, but since we never had them at home and I never collected anything breakable until we got into this collectibles business, I never knew china pots with built-in heating elements existed.

But its commonness would not have made a bit of difference to me even if I'd known it. I looked at this pretty little thing and said, "Oh, it wants to go home with me!"

The shop owner obviously knew that these pots are abundant, because even before it moved to the 75% -off shelf, she'd priced it at only $7.00. Search for "Moss Rose electric teapot" on eBay and see how many you find, selling for about 9+ dollars. But then, add shipping.

Anyway, I loved it, and here it is. 75% -off of $7.00 is ONE dollar and SEVENTY-FIVE cents, and that's what I paid, and however many there are out there, it makes me happy to glance up and see it.


Sherwood Harrington said...

And I'm sure it's happy to be there.

Wonderful essay, Ruth. I spend a lot of time in the mud room of my mind, and now I know what to call it.

Mike said...

Reminds me of the old enamel-coated radio that was my last plug-in, tube radio before I got a transistor. I would lie in bed at night when the new Top 10 was announced on WABC, some 350 miles to the south, with one hand touching the radio to form a ground and kill some of the static. If I started to drift off, the buzz would wake me, or I'd wake up an hour later to that sound. Alas, being a young boy, when the old radio's time had come, I took it apart to examine its insides. There wasn't much to see, but I suppose we'd have thrown it out whole anyway.

Christy said...

Love the new header picture! And I totally know what you mean about things taking on lives of their own in our minds... that's probably why I can't leave my favorite stuffed animal slouched over when I see him on my daughter's bed. (And the fact that I can now call him a "stuffed" animal is major personal growth.)

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

OK, i guess i'm not the only person for whom things take on lives of their own. 8~)

And i think my grandmother was the same way, because she carefully secreted the old radio in the back of a very stuffed linen closet in the guest wing, probably to keep my grandfather from taking it apart and tinkering with it.

Christy - now that i discover i can use pictures for the blog header, i'll be changing it sometimes - but they'll rotate back!