Objects of Our Affection
Uncovering My Family's Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time
By Lisa Tracy
(Bantam, Hardcover, 9780553807264, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 23, 2010
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After their mother’s death, Lisa Tracy and her sister, Jeanne, are left to contend with several households’ worth of furniture and memorabilia, much of it accumulated during their family’s many decades of military service in far-flung outposts from the American frontier to the World War Two–era Pacific. In this engaging and deeply moving book, Tracy chronicles the wondrous interior life of those possessions and discovers that the roots of our passion for acquisition often lie not in shallow materialism but in our desire to possess the most treasured commodity of all: a connection to the past.
What starts as an exercise in information gathering designed to boost the estate’s resale value at auction evolves into a quest that takes Lisa Tracy from her New Jersey home to the Philippines and, ultimately, back to the town where she grew up. These travels open her eyes to a rich family history characterized by duty, hardship, honor, and devotion—qualities embodied in the very items she intends to sell. Here is an inventory unlike any other: silver gewgaws, dueling pistols that once belonged to Aaron Burr (no, not those pistols), a stately storage chest from Boxer Rebellion–era China, providentially recovered family documents, even a chair in which George Washington may or may not have sat—each piece cherished and passed down to Lisa’s generation as an emblem of who her forebears were, what they had done, and where they had been. Each is cataloged here with all the richness and intimacy that only a family member could bring to the endeavor.
“Even as we know we should be winnowing, we’re wallowing,” observes Lisa Tracy in one of her characteristically trenchant observations about America’s abiding obsession with “stuff.” A paean to the pack rat in us all, Objects of Our Affection offers an offbeat and intriguing mix of cultural anthropology, Antiques Roadshow Americana, and military history and lore, as well as a thoughtful meditation on the emotional resonance of objects—what they mean and the oh-so-fascinating stories they tell.
Lisa Tracy is an author and journalist and the former Home & Design editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Lexington, Virginia, where she currently teaches creative nonfiction.
“Lisa Tracy’s Family Furniture is a marvelous mix of tenacity and tenderness. Yes, it is about the history of certain carefully collected heirlooms; but it is about something much greater and more human. It is about why we hold on to the things we keep, how we let go of the ones we lose. It is about the soul of a family, any family, our expectations and regrets, our loves and losses, our search for meaning and belonging in the things that fill our houses and our hearts.”—Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife
“Plush stories of love, war, life and death are lovingly tucked inside the drawers and chair springs of a remarkable family's furnishings. Lisa Tracy brings them to life with tender humor and due respect.” —Tanya Maria Barrientos, author of Family Resemblance
“Lisa Tracy’s Objects of Our Affection is a lovely and loving book, revealing the life of her well-traveled military family not just through the furniture they chose to keep, but through what they lost and surrendered along the way. Moving from the heights of San Juan Hill to the courtyards of China’ s Forbidden City, this book shows us why the possessions of our ancestors exert a profound influence upon our modern lives. Anyone who finds meaning and memory in the belongings of their forebears will enjoy this book.” —Jeff Gammage, author of China Ghosts: My Daughter’s Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood.
“Objects of Our Affection is a memoir in belongings, right down to the salt in an old glass shaker with a dented lid. Being a born Southern story-teller, Lisa Tracy has captured beautifully why we love our belongings–not for their actual value but for the family stories they hold, and for the way they allow us to follow the threads of continuity in the red velvet fabric of life.” —Susan Caba, author of Guilty Pleasures
“This is a book that gathers emotional momentum as you read it. Gradually you realize it is a rare look at the women who have devoted their lives to the men who have fought America's wars. I read the closing chapters with tears in my eyes.” —Thomas Fleming, author of The Officers' Wives and West Point: The Men and Times of the U.S.Military Academy