My grandpa’s matches and why you shouldn’t save ‘the good stuff’


It seems like a strange thing to admit to the internet: I wasn’t particularly close with my Grandpa Von Bargen.

He and my grandma lived three and a half hours away and he was truly a man of his generation:
Huge calloused hands and countless pairs of Carhartt pants.
More comfortable putting in the dock than making conversation with pre-teen girls.
Hardworking, quiet, reticent.
I knew he loved me in that way that children blindly assume that all family members love them but I didn’t know much about him.
Every time I visited my grandparents I’d spend hours examining the four coolest things in their house.
1. The player piano
2. The glass paperweight with A REAL SCORPION INSIDE
3. The jade bull from China
4. My grandpa’s collection of matchbooks from all over the world
I’d paw through them, sorting them by place of origin, color of matches, books vs boxes. And every once in a while, my grandpa would lean over and tell me about the restaurant in New York where he got that shiny red box of green-tipped matches.
When my grandma died a few years ago and the grandkids were choosing which mementos they wanted, I knew I wanted my grandpa’s huge jar of matches. I wanted to be able to sift through them at my leisure and see if my travels and his ever crossed paths.
I made a home for that jar of matches in my pantry and one cold autumn day, while trying to light a cozily scented candle, I couldn’t find a lighter.So, sacrilegious as it seems, I reached into that antique jar, pulled out a box of matches from 1956 and used one small, wooden match to light that candle.Since that day, I’ve been slowly working my way through those matches, using them on birthday candles, holiday sparklers, pilot lights that go out. And each time I use one of my grandpa’s matches I think about him and wonder about the life he lead and the adventures he had that I didn’t know about.

A friend who watched me do this shrilled “You can’t do that! You’re wasting them!” and while I understand where she’s coming from, I believe that things are meant to be used.Your expensive lingerie wants to be worn and petted.
Your good china wants to serve chili and sandwiches and nachos.
My matches want to be lit.

I’m not going to save ‘the good stuff’ for some imaginary, perfect time that may or may not happen. A birthday cupcake or a mid-summer’s night sparkler is reason enough for me.

Do you have a tendency to ‘save’ your best things for some indeterminate future date? If that’s something you’re trying to get over, how are you going to use them?Β 

26 Comments

Katzi Roman

When I was around 12 years old, one of my mom's brothers passed away and I got to keep one of his beautiful blank journals as a memento. I remember being so afraid to use it because I thought it would be disrespectful because, after all, it was his. Maybe I thought he would be back in some form and I was just holding on to it in the mean time but one day, I was looking for a journal to scribble in and none of my other blank books felt right to write in – except that one. It felt like a giant exhale to write it in and I could almost feel him smiling at me for finally using it. I did make a promise to myself, though, that I would never let that journal out of my sight because it means so much and even though there's a bunch of (silly) teen angst in there, the book itself is like a happy memory of him. πŸ™‚

Reply
lifebykristen

My family and I recently spent about 2 weeks cleaning out my grandmother's house so she can move from MA to CA to live with my aunt. 50 years of stuff in a house, lots of it sentimental, but so many things ( silver candlesticks, cashmere sweaters, notecards, etc.) she 'saved' for a special occasion. Every time she'd find something she 'saved' she kept saying " I wish I'd used this when I had a chance." I think for her generation, as a child of the Great Depression, they were told to save as much as they could, but in her case, she saved so much and never had the chance to use it. Thankfully, between her children and grandchildren much of the stuff will have a second life- the gorgeous silver candlesticks are already on my mantle instead of buried in a drawer.

Reply
Vanessa

My parents are probably around your grandparents age and I think it's a Depression thing. My folks were very poor growing up in Cuba so when they got to have nicer things here in the US, they had to save them. And never use stuff.

I've been pretty good about breaking myself of the fear of "what if I ruin it?" especially when it comes to blank journals and art supplies. It's that fear of imperfection that kept me from learning how to draw and from really letting myself open up in my journals. After having cancer, I don't save nice stuff any more because I realize that I don't have time to wait until later. Time is now!

In a bigger way, that fear also kept me from getting closer to people because…what if I ruin that relationship? It's a silly thought when you say it out loud!

Reply
Sara Frandina

I couldn't agree with this more, Sarah. I learned from many people much wiser than me that "you can't spend it when you're gone, and you sure as hell can't take it with you." Thanks for sharing your personal story + keep lighting those candles!

Reply
Sarah M

I have a tendency to not use the best of what I have–don't wear that Anthropologie dress (that looks amazing, btw) because it'll wear out too soon….don't use that awesome fabric because you won't be able to buy any more, ever (from travels abroad)….don't use the stickers because you'll run out!! (says my 7 year old self). I hear this message every once in awhile, and I realllllly need to listen to it. I totally see the value in using up the best, but it's hard when you've grown up with a 'lack' mentality.
Sarah M

Reply
Caitlyn

I found this post kind of uncanny. My Aunt has a jar of old vintage matchbooks in her bathroom. I was visiting a couple years ago and was surprised to see her grab one to light a candle since it did seem kind of sacrilege. So I asked her about them and she explained that she got them all at estate sales. The people who collected them originally, who had memories of the places they were from, never used them. Their descendants felt they were not worth holding on to and sold them off. So she buys them and uses them. She enjoys them and refuses to "save them for later", knowing that later never came for their original owners. It really made me rethink my relationship with stuff. I really loved your story and I think it's great you are using the matches and thinking of your grandfather!

Reply
lesliele

I think this is fantastic! πŸ˜€ My favorite thing about visiting my aunt & uncle's house was the guest bathroom– they had a frame with small bars in it, and you could fold a matchbook around it and close it– for display. I spent HOURS standing on the bathroom counter looking at those books when I was a kid. πŸ™‚ I like the idea of buying them up from estate sales.

I'm a big buyer of vintage linens and such. And I immediately put them into rotation and use in my house. The people who had them before never used them, and then they DIED. I figure, I'm going to use my good stuff before I die and someone ELSE buys them and uses them. πŸ˜‰

Reply
Annie

Yes and Yes to THIS! I'm totally with you. I use fancy dishes every. day. because I love them and want to enjoy them. It's a pet peeve of mine when friends keep their lovely china packed away in a closet, never to see the light of day. When I brought home a fancy jar of mustard from my recent trip to Luxembourg and served it at a BBQ, my friend said "but don't you want to save it?!" For what? It's an instant conversation starter, and I'll save the fancy glass it came in.

Reply
Mel

*sniff* I have a box of match books that belonged to my late uncle sitting beside me at my desk as I type this. He's been gone just over a year, and I haven't been able to figure out what to do with the matches. Find a collector who would appreciate them? Throw them away? Keep them forever?

Now I know: I will use them and I will think of him every time.

Reply
Girliest Nerd

My parents never, ever used their fine china and elected to keep it a cabinet, presumably for when only the Queen of England would visit. When they divorced 20 year later it had never seen the light of day :/ Drink the good stuff when the mood moves you and use those beautiful dishes.

A while ago I splurged and bought a beautiful dish set from Anthropologie… it held my honey nut cheerios this morning πŸ™‚

Reply
Alison

I have a bottle of wine that my mom got me for the 21st birthday. It is the same variety of wine that she and my dad toasted with the night she found out she was pregnant with me (yes, my mom toasted with wine the day she found out she was pregnant… I turned out fine, haha). I told myself I was saving it for when I got into med school. That happened in 2008. The wine remains. Now I've gotten into med school again and it still isn't opened.

My husband and I are closing on our first home together on Friday. I think we might open that bottle this weekend.

Reply
Melissa Stebbins

We had a bowl of matchboxes from all over the place growing up but my dad used them lighting the fire, candles etc and just put the empty boxes back in the bowl.

Reply
Mika P.

This is perfect. I loved that your grandpa saved all those matches- it makes me want to do something similar. Also, I agree that the matches should be used! It serves a dual-purpose: allowing you to make use of them, but also allowing yourself the joy of pulling one out and remembering your grandpa. (:

Reply
Becky C.

What a lovely story! Reminds me of my grandma who has rooms of cabinets full of teapots and tea sets that have never been used – my aunt and I frequently make up elaborate imaginary scenarios together about when they would get used..like when the whole of China comes to visit, or the Queen drops by unexpectedly! It reminds us to use up and enjoy our own nicer things.

Reply
Anonymous

I used to be a Saver. And then I realized that the stuff never actually lived up to its value, and it's value would only increase if I used it because few things were designed to do nothing. I don't want to gather dust, and my stuff shouldn't either – I enjoy using my stuff, and I imagine my stuff enjoys being used. My long-term boyfriend at the time was also a Saver, and he made a snarky comment along the lines of, "I thought you said that stationary was too precious to use. Now you are using it. That says a lot about you." His implication was that I didn't value things anymore, but I just snorted… because it really meant that he didn't understand me anymore, and didn't care to, and would rather make assumptions than ask why I started using my precious things. We broke up a few weeks after that. (For reasons unrelated to writing letters on my favorite stationary!)

Reply

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.