I have this affinity for old things collected in glass jars. I love jars full of buttons, screws and metal bits, watch parts, shiny rocks, beads, and broken jewelry. I use all of these things in this little weird side art project I have of making creepy dolls. I love to see things in jars. It creates a strange aesthetic, like a mad scientist’s laboratory.
I try to imagine where this fetish started. I can only recall my grandfather’s garage with strange metal parts in grimy jelly jars stacked willynilly on the dusty shelves. I also think of my neighbor, Mrs. Nick, with her jewelry boxes filled with gaudy beaded old lady jewelry that she would let me pick through without fussing over my shoulder the way so many old ladies would over their prized possessions when little fingers fuddle. I still remember how she kept her earrings in the same kind of storage my dad and grandfather kept their screws and nails, a plastic bin with drawers, so many drawers, each with a little treasure inside. I was very little and very independent. It was the 80’s and I would walk across the street to Mrs. Nick’s house whenever I wanted. She always welcomed me and let me rummage through her jewelry. What a saint.
Next door to Mrs. Nick was Mildred. Mildred taught me to play the organ. I would walk over to her home once a week for my lesson. This was not quite as much fun. She was a sweet lady, but I could not rummage through her things. I had to be polite and sit on the bench trying to stretch my tiny fingers over all of those keys. The sound of the organ was ominous, although at that age, I would not have known why the music made me feel like I was going to get in trouble. The sound of the piano would have been more welcoming and soothing, uplifting and jolly, but not the organ. It was deep and honking, otherworldly and foreboding.
The organ had an orange button that you had to turn on, it needed electricity, how modern. Looking back, it would have been really cool if she had a candelabra on the organ, but she didn’t, just a doily with a little vase full of plastic flowers and a picture of her dead husband staring at us.
On the other side of Mrs. Nick was Fran. Every night, Fran would walk the neighborhood. If I was outside playing, I would run up to Fran and walk with her. I am sure I would ramble on about all the happenings of my life, while she would occasionally ask questions about my friends, my studies. She would talk about her dead husband. He was a tile man. I didn’t know what that meant, but I listened politely.
Poor Fran. I really did enjoy walking with her, except for one little flaw. Fran farted. A LOT. It was as if there was a fart button on the bottom of her foot. Every time she stepped, I would a hear a fart. You might think, well obviously she had a squeaky shoe, and I would say, do squeaky shoes also smell like a fart? Apparently, I was seriously lacking in friends, because despite her affliction, I still walked and talked with Fran every chance I got. Unfortunately, behind her back, my parents and I called her Farting Fran, because they noticed it, too, I wasn’t the only one.
Fran invited me to her home one day and that’s when I found out what a tile man was. I know a child’s mind can be quite inventive, but when I tell you that every surface in her home was covered with tile, I am not exaggerating. Her coffee table, end tables, shelves, and chair seats were all covered with those tiny mosaic tiles. It was strange, overwhelming and quite beautiful. She was absolutely and completely surrounded by tile. It gave me the sense of heaviness, concrete and weighted. Her back yard was even worse. The ground, the tables, sculptures, all covered with tile. Her husband was dead, but his creations remained and they were too heavy to move, that was what she told me. She was small and frail and his memory loomed heavy, too heavy to move. He too, had broken bits of things in jars. Colors of tile sorted and marked, ready for the next project that would never be started.
Why did Fran keep all those jars? Maybe she liked the idea of the potential of all those broken pieces. She could stare at them and imagine her dead husband’s spirit returning to finish his life’s work of covering the whole world with tile. Potential still exists in those jars. I think that is the appeal. The broken bits still have work to be done.