Friday, December 10, 2010

Experiences within Spaces: Comparing experiences from "The Country of the Pointed Firs" and experiences from my own life.

In apartment 303 there are many reasons that you could identify this space as a place. A space where someone moves, breathes and lives but the memories of this space don’t come from this apartment, they come from the past. The past where we can thrive on the memories that once were alive. We might be able to think about what once was, but we will never be able to re-live these memories, the only way they can survive is through brief moments that draw us back in. A place can be significant to anyone, what justifies a place to be more than just a random space filled with air? Is it the smell that captivates you when you walk in, is the stained tile floor that takes you back to a different time or its the people that live in these spaces that make them what they are. To me, spaces are not places until someone takes the time to make memories out of the things that dwell in these places.

The smell of this space is so nostalgic but the instant you step out of apartment 303, that sense of emotion is swept right beneath you. This apartment is a symbol of time, symbol of change and a symbol of loss. In this 600 ft square apartment you can look around and see so many pictures that inspire thoughts of what once was but it is the wonderful woman who lives in this apartment that makes these vivid pictures come alive. I have been blessed to have a wonderful Grandmother, who helps me accept things that I cannot change. She accepts time and change with open arms. She makes you feel like you will be young forever. Yes, she does live in a tiny apartment but the instant you walk in, it becomes a huge globe of ideas, thoughts, and inspirations. For me, going to apartment 303 is like walking into a space where time stops. It’s a space where all anxieties of life go out the window, my Grandmother is a symbol of hope. She gives inspiration in a space that someone would see as a jail, but in this space she see’s it as another opportunity to do something with her life. When reading The Country of the Pointed Firs, there is a character that is a mirror image of my Grandmother. Mrs. Todd’s mother. The way that Sarah Orne Jewett describes her, gives me an instant reminder of who my Grandmother is. When Mrs. Todd is explaining her mother she describes, “She’s seen all the trouble folks can see, without it’s her last sickness; an’ she’s got a word of courage for everybody. Life ain’t spoilt her a mite. She’s eighty-six and I’m sixty seven, and I’ve seen the time I’ve felt a good sight the oldest” (Jewett 29). This brief description that Mrs. Todd gives to the narrator is an exact picture of who my Grandma is. These women take their age, their experiences and whatever life throws at them and try to make the best possible outcomes. Through a brief visit to Mrs. Todd’s mother’s house in the novel, there are similarities between the mother and my Grandmother that become so clear.

Apartment 303 is a retirement home where my Grandma lives, she has been living there for 6 years. Before moving into to 303, she lived in the same house for 50 years. My grandmother, like most older people, accepted that she could no longer take care of a big house and made the decision to move into a place that would be easier for her to live. For myself, my Father and the rest of my family, it was heartbreaking to see her move out of the house. It was symbol of growing up and to her; it was her life that she was leaving behind. Most people would be devastated to move out of place that holds so many memories but for my Grandma, it was just another chapter in her life. Every Tuesday I am blessed with the time to go have lunch with my Grandma. It is the same thing every time, we get the same order, we sit in the same place and it is a time and place that I know exactly how things will go. As an anxious college student I am always worrying about what will happen next, what I’m supposed to do with my life but when walking into her apartment, it is a place where I, along with my life, stops. If you were an outsider looking in, you would be amazed at the inner youth my Grandmother holds. Like Mrs. Todd’s mother she is a, “delightful little person, with bright eyes and an affectionate air of expectation like a child on a holiday” (35). She understands the meaning of life, what we are supposed to do, how we are supposed to deal with things. For someone whose life is close to an end, she lives everyday like she has a thousand more left. Her ideals mirror Mrs. Todd’s mother because she has this sense of time, that there is an infinite amount. When the narrator is describing Mrs. Todd’s mothers house, there is a sense of remembrance and I feel a connection to the narrator because like her, walking into a retirement home is nothing meaningful but seeing my Grandmother’s apartment is like a rush of emotion, seeing her life through her memories.

There are certain distinctions in The Country of Pointed Firs that make Mrs. Todd’s mother’s house on Green Island very distinct. It’s not the house that makes it so special, it is the woman who lives in this house that makes it exclusive. When Jewett describes the house and the objects within it, it is easy to compare her feelings, to my Grandmother’s feelings about her objects within her house. My Grandmother’s table. It is the exact same table that has been in her life forever. This table is not just a table where you eat; it is a place that has shared many conversations, many late night talks and things that forever change who I am. My Grandma hasn’t had the easiest life, she was divorced and raised two children on her own. This table represents her life, it is made out of wood but each chip, mark and stain has a story, just like her life. Every Tuesday when I make the trip to apartment 303, I see this table and I remember every memory she has shared with me that has happened here. Yes, we do eat at this table but it’s the things that are shared between us at this table that makes these instances special. Even though everything is the same at these meals, the thoughts and stories are always different. When talking with my Grandma, I always forget that we live in two different time periods but with every story, she has some sort of advice or encouragement and one would never know that she was 85. When the narrator is speaking to the mother, she states, “ you felt as if she promised a great future, and was beginning, not ending, her summers and their happy toils” (38). My Grandma instills a sense of hope for me, that I am young and that I have so many decisions and choices to look forward to. I feel that Mrs. Todd’s mother does the same, that everyday should be a beginning for that next something.

“She loomed larger than ever in the little old-fashioned best room, with its few pieces of good furniture and national interest. The green paper curtains were stamped with conventional landscapes of foreign order” (39). This description of this special room is not special unless you can relate to the “green paper curtains”, which in my case, is very similar. My Grandma owns a very vintage recliner. It looks like it is 1,000 years old and no one in their right mind would have it in their house but she has had the recliner since I was born, it is something that means a lot to her. She sits everyday and drinks countless amounts of tea and reads. This is her life, this is what she enjoys. To some people this may seem boring but to her, this is what she aspires to do every day when she wakes up. I enjoy walking into her apartment and seeing her in that chair because it is familiar. It is something that I have seen many times before. It brings me back to simpler times. I have a picture in my mind of her sitting there at Christmas drinking tea and reading a Christmas Story or a picture in my scrapbook where I, once a child, am wrapped up in this chair sleeping. It is a small memory but to me it is a picture and an object that brings me back to reality, that even though we cannot stop time, we can always remember things and objects that brings us home again.

Photos. Everyone has photos that they love to share, my Grandma has the most awkward montages of photos on her walls. People might think the way she hangs these photos are crazy but to me, it symbolizes movement. You can walk through these awkwardly hung wall photos and realize what a great life my Grandmother has lived and still living. It starts from her traveling days, to her married life, to her children and then to us. “She had the gift which so many women lack, of being able to make themselves and their houses belong entirely to a guest’s pleasure, - that charming surrender for the moment of themselves and whatever belongs to them, so that they make a part of one’s own life that can never be forgotten” (46). The same intuitions that people have for Mrs. Todd’s mother are the same feelings people have towards my Grandmother. Jewett’s makes it seem like there is a gravitational pull towards Mrs. Todd’s mother, which is very similar to the way I feel about my Grandmother. There is an instinctive pull towards her once you are inside of her house, these objects in her house are old and outdated but every memory she shares with you about these objects pulls you into her life and her experiences. This space is a dull, old place for her to live but I don’t think she would be the courageous, inspiring woman she is without her apartment.

Places can be just places but I believe it is the objects and the experiences you share in these places that really make them significant. My Grandmothers apartment is old, it’s located in a place that no one wants to live but the joy my Grandmother has in her life, is something to aspire to. She carries these rigid, old objects that no one would understand the meaning of but once you are engaged into conversation with her, you can see into the past and you can see the beauty in each of these objects that have made her life what it is. “Conversation’s got to have some root in the past, or else you’ve got to explain every remark you make, an it wears a person out” (61). My Grandmother speaks from the past but encourages for the future. She has encouraged me to accept things that I cannot change and to make the most of every opportunity I have. To her, every inch of space can be transformed into a place but more importantly; it’s the people and the memories that you carry to every place that make it significant.

The place where my Grandmother lives is 600 feet, it is white, boring and has no meaning to me. But the stories, objects and the person moving around in this space makes this non-relevant space a place to me. This area makes me realize that time doesn’t stop but to make the most of the time that is left and to see beauty in every place you are given the opportunity to see. My Grandma helps me realize that its not the space you are in, its what you make of it that defines it as a place.


Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Furs. New York: Penguin Group Inc, 2009.

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