A Favorite Thing

A Favorite Thing: Owl Candle Holder

This candle holder is precious to me as a reminder of my aunt Thaniel, who died when I was just a child. I acquired the owl many years later, after my grandfather died. I found it in her former bedroom, which had long been used as a guest room, so I can’t be sure the owl even belonged to her or that she actually liked the thing. That uncertainty doesn’t bother me. I wasn’t old enough to know Thaniel well, but she seemed to me to have a bright spirit, and so an item that holds a flame is a fitting symbol for her regardless of its past ownership.

In spite of my fondness for the owl, I came close to getting rid of it. After all, I don’t need another candle holder and I have too many decorative items as it is. I sometimes feel like I am drowning in stuff and to be able to let go of any possession can be a great relief. But recently, during my weeks of “dehoarding,”  I let go of something else that was once even more precious.

Thaniel used to send me gifts for holidays. One of those gifts was a painted porcelain box in the shape of a cat. It was beautiful, but it was also breakable, and I was careless enough to allow it to get broken.

It’s kind of a funny story how that happened. When I was a kid, I had a canopy bed. The canopy itself was white and translucent. One day, I was lying in bed and I looked up and saw something creepy: the shadowy shape of a giant spider. The spider was camped out on my canopy, too big and awkwardly placed to squish, so I decided to catch it.

And what do you suppose I used to catch it? That very breakable porcelain box, of course. I must have had much less fear of spiders back then in order to catch such a large spider in such a small box, but I did it. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was telling my brother, because of course he had to see the spider, and when he took the lid off the box, the spider was so big, hairy, and scary, that he dropped the box. Crash! The spider scurried away and all I had left was a box with a broken lid.

My father glued the lid back together, but it never looked quite right. Over the years, the once clear glue turned brown, making the seams both obvious and ugly. Still, I kept the box because it reminded me of Thaniel.

I don’t know how the box got broken the second time. It broke along the same lines, but this time some parts of it shattered into tiny little bits. I knew it wasn’t repairable, but I kept the pieces for years. Then came the weeks of dehoarding. I tried to make some argument for keeping the box, but I couldn’t. It added nothing good to my life, only sadness every time I looked at its remains. I finally threw it away.

I miss that box, and yet I’m glad it’s gone. Just as I prefer to remember Thaniel in life rather than death, so do I prefer to remember that box as it was when she gave it to me and not in its final, shattered state. But I like to have tangible reminders of the people I have loved, and now this owl has taken on the role once filled by the porcelain box. In the years I have owned the owl, I don’t know that I’ve ever put a candle in it. So today, in honor of the aunt I lost so many years ago, I light this flame.


P.S. My husband says that keeping a possession because it reminds you of someone is a “hoarding thing.” I agree that’s true when it’s taken to extremes. Were I to keep every item that reminded me of some other person, place, thing, time, or event, then I would certainly have a problem, but one item to remind me of one person seems reasonable to me.

P.P.S. I don’t know exactly when Thaniel died, but I would guess it was roughly 30 years ago. She was too young to have made a big mark on the world, yet her words can be found online in an essay she wrote while in college. Isn’t the Internet an amazing thing?

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