Material Object: Lisa Fine
As told to Joshua David Stein. Illustrations by Lucilla Tubaro
What's the most important item in your home? In our series Material Object, we explore that very question, asking some of our favorite people which of their possessions connect them to their past, to their family, and to themselves.
Along with her husband Michael, Lisa Fine is the co-founder of Quiet Town, a line of impossibly beautiful shower curtains and bath mats. She, her husband and two children live on the North Fork of Long Island. Here Lisa tells the story of her Smokey Bear jar opener.
I love my mother but she is a pretty bad gift-giver. I either throw everything she gives me away or I gag-gift it to someone else in the family. (These gifts circulate for years.) My mom lives in New Mexico and frequently goes on road trips. There must be a National Park or a gas station or something that gives away free swag -- she never actually buys any of her gifts -- because she’s constantly sending us Smokey the Bear swag.
We get straw cowboy hats for my kids and pamphlets about preventing forest fires and strange silk cowboy ties. When you live in Brooklyn, or in a small space, all this stuff just creates clutter:clutter in my space, clutter in my mind, clutter in my heart because it’s family and little things become big things with family. What kind of monstrous daughter spurns her mother’s gifts as I do?
"Wrapping my hand around Smokey the Bear’s face, I am filled with gratitude for her, because she’s helped me get a grip."
There is, though, one gift that I can’t live without. It’s a cheap orange silicone Smokey the Bear jar opener. I use it all the time. It’s the most useful thing she’s given me in my 45 years of life. It’s given me independence. I never have to ask anyone to help me open a jar. It’s come with us on our many moves. It is indispensable. I don’t think my mother meant to make my life easier but she truly has. I love this jar opener dearly but the thing is I can never tell my mother. If I did, we’d be awash in all orange things or all Smokey the Bear things or even more jar openers. There are too many opportunities for miscommunication. So instead I just keep quiet.
Yet, I think of her every time I open a jar in the kitchen. Wrapping my hand around Smokey the Bear’s face, I am filled with gratitude for her, because she’s helped me get a grip. And I feel gratitude for this flimsy piece of orange silicone because it means that it’s not that I don’t like gifts from my mother, after all. It’s that I don’t like bad gifts from her. In other words, I’m not a monster. Or if I am, I’m a monster who can open a jar of mustard by herself.