My mother-in-law came to live with Mrs. Rodin and me about a year and a half ago. My father-in-law had passed the year before, but he left my mother-in-law over a decade earlier. So the precipitating event for the move was the cancer diagnosis of my mother-in-law’s significant other, who relocated to southern California where his daughters could take care of him. Did I mention my mother-in-law was 87 and her significant other 91 when this happened?
When he left, the path was cleared for my mother-in-law to give up her independent life. They did not share a home, but they shared all of their days. Keeping her home was an important feature of her life, not ceding complete control to anyone else. But the close proximity of her significant other’s home gave her a more secure feeling staying there than she could have had with Mrs. Rodin and me being over an hour away. So when he left, her need for security overcame her need for control.
Thus started the process of the great “clean-out,” the selection of what to bring, what to give away, and what to discard. Given my mother-in-law’s strength of personality (and it is strong) my approach was careful, not challenging the reality that she was losing control with the move. (We maximized the things she could bring, even putting some of our own furniture in storage to be replaced by items from her home as a means of retaining a sense of familiarity for her.)
If you have ever participated in a “clean-out” of this kind you know it is like an archeological dig or a geological excavation, exposing history and revealing fossil remains. I did not know whether my mother-in-law had become a border-line hoarder or simply forgot when she had something already and then replaced it. Given her philosophy that if it was a consumable you always bought two to ensure you did not run out, you can imagine the proliferation of certain household items.
The move was made in stages with many trips transferring objects in the back of our car before a final commercial move of large furniture. We filled up our garage and added some storage units, even with the many calls to 1-800-GOT-JUNK. As we went through every closet, container, and drawer we happened upon many many matchbooks. Recognizing they were potentially hazardous to put in disposed waste and not wanting to figure out the local regulations, I opted to take them home.
Neither Mrs. Rodin and I nor my in-laws are smokers, and so, the match collection did not serve any profound purpose and it grew over time. As I would have a reason from time to time to strike a match from my mother-in-law’s hoard I became curious about the names and designs appearing on many of the matchbooks. One was for a politician (Republican) running for state office. I finally decided to do an internet search and discovered that the politician last ran for state office in 1968! Then there was a restaurant. It closed sometime in the 1970s! So these matchbooks were now ~50 years old. But they still lighted up when struck.
Like other objects in my in-laws home, the matchbooks recorded places and activities from decades ago. Never discarded, never consumed.
My mother-in-law’s memory isn’t good anymore. My father-in-law is dead. So the stories behind the matchbooks are left to speculation except wherever Mrs. Rodin went with them in her late teens and early adulthood. A few of the establishments remain, but many of them are accessible only in online histories if they were prominent in their time and developed a loyal following or inspired something that came behind.
Do you, too, have vintage matches? What are their stories?Published in