My mother moved recently and one of the (many) things she didn’t take was her silver flatware. It became one of the (many) things I took home that I didn’t really want.
Some of the pieces were blackened with tarnish and, since I also took home her bottle of silver polish, I decided to polish some silver.
My mother used to polish the silver every year right before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. It seemed like such a thankless job to me and I always tried to get out of doing it. It’s messy and time consuming and I would much rather have spent my time reading. Since she usually wasn’t able to convince one of us to help, it was left to my mother to complete the job.
When I opened the bottle of Wright’s silver polish last week and poured it on the rag, the smell transported me to the house I grew up in. That Proustian moment allowed me to experience my mother, with a big stack of flatware in front of her, at the dining room table.
I intended to polish just one piece, to avoid another task I didn’t want to do. I got lost in the act of polishing, however; the rhythmic wiping, the scent of the polish, the shine eventually revealing itself – it felt therapeutic and I didn’t want to stop.
It’s the same feeling I get when I pick weeds in my yard. Most people don’t understand why I enjoy picking weeds. It’s hard to explain how that repetitive task affords me a small amount of peace, how the act of not thinking allows me to relax completely.
If I decide to keep the silver, it may be only because I can take it out and polish it annually, which doesn’t seem like much of a reason to keep something. Then again, it might appeal to me when it’s too cold to go outside and pick weeds.
I’ll have to ask my mother if she felt the same way about polishing. Come to think of it, she did spend a lot of time weeding the garden, too.
By the way, I enjoyed this interview with Linda Wertheimer and Alain de Botton, author of How Proust Can Change Your Life. I hope you like it, too.