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The Way Things Age

Documenting how the things we use take on our patina over the years.

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Sung Han

The objects we hold on to, that we use everyday, become part of our identity. And, as they integrate into our lives, we, too, become part of theirs. The oils of our skin, the patterns of our use, the sweat we shed and the dust we pull them through all work their way into the objects. They take on our patina, our distinct wearing in. And over the years of use, they pick up stories, little snippets of our lives — “that tear there came from…” “that dent there happened when…” — that the objects carry with them, as we go on carrying the objects with us.

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The GP Staff was tasked with bringing in a “well-worn and well-loved object of your affection”. The things people brought in hit deep. Like our desks or home screens, these objects shed light on the personalities of the men who use them. They’re mementos with grand meaning and large memories. They’re memories in concrete form that carry weight, history and, of course, a story.

Editor’s Note: I came across Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried” in my last year of grad school. In the three years prior, I’d gorged on enough writing to fill a library, and the stuff I picked up then, in those final few weeks, often fell flat. I’d read enough. The stories all ran together. O’Brien, for a change, grabbed me by the second paragraph. There, the lists began: “Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches…” He goes on. For pages. Each soldier, defined by their possessions, comes to the surface like characters being assembled out in a collage of objects. And I think we’re like that too, even if our meager possessions aren’t framed and restricted by the practical demands and heartbreaking entropy of the Vietnam War. – Matthew Ankeny

Grandfather’s Pins

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When my grandfather died, I was handed an old department store jewelry box filled with tarnished knickknacks. I had barely known him in life; strokes had turned him into just a shell. But the box’s contents told a story of sorts — there were tie bars from his days as a hardware store owner and lapel pins from various fraternal organizations (the Lions Club, the Freemasons, Kiwanis international) that dominated the social scene in small town Montana during the 1950s. Then, last year, when my father passed, I was given another box of small metal pieces. I was close to him until his last day, yet the contents spoke to a time he rarely discussed. There was his captain’s insignia along with other military distinctions from his years in Vietnam. They now sit in a valet tray next to my bed. I thought about cleaning them once, then reconsidered. The hard times and good times of two generations of Bowers cling to the pile. They’re a reminder to keep my days in perspective. – Ben Bowers

1967 Omega Constellation

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When I was younger, I never wore a watch. And even today, wearing a watch doesn’t come naturally. But after my grandfather passed away in 2012, I inherited his 1967 Omega Constellation. An avid naturalist and butterfly collector, he wore this watch on countless bushwhacking adventures through Africa and Central and South America. As you can see, the watch is a little beat up and the strap isn’t original, but this self-winding timepiece continues onward. And, along with the memory of my grandfather, the watch has also taught me discipline. After all, it depends on me to work. – Tucker Bowe

Vietnam-Era United States Navy Deck Jacket

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I’ve got more outerwear than I know what to do with, but when it’s brutally cold I’ll usually reach for this. It’s the A-2 deck jacket my dad wore while serving in the Navy during Vietnam. The numbers on the back indicate the ship he was on — DLG is the designation for a guided missile frigate; DLG 17 was the vessel, the USS Harry E. Yarnell. It has all the features you want for an everyday jacket: high collar, single chest pocket, zip and button closures, drawcords to cinch the bottom tight and a nice slim silhouette so it looks good. It’s hard to imagine that my dad wore this jacket 40 years ago when he was younger than I am now. I plan to hang on to it for as it still keeps me warm. – Jeremy Berger

Father’s Briefcase

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There’s something oddly assuring about the inevitability of paper. For my dad that involved a grip of inventory sheets, purchase orders and cash receipts from his small business — all stuffed into his trusty briefcase. It’s entirely leather (Bosca, I think) but the thing is going on 30 years now and it’s beat to hell. I plan to keep it forever. Also, funny story: one night after closing his restaurant, he was walking to his car when a black bear moseyed out from the shadows — this is known to happen in Gatlinburg, TN, especially at my father’s restaurant near the national park. Shocked, my dad just slung his briefcase at the bear’s face. It hit the bear (not in the face) and as you can imagine the bear couldn’t have given two shits. It grunted and sauntered off, probably as confused as my dad, wondering what had just transpired. Many years later, hearing Dad tell that story is as inevitable as the papers the briefcase once held. – Eric Yang

A.P.C. Petite Standard Jeans

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I bought these jeans in college, which pretty much wiped out my bank account at the time. (On the spectrum of raw denim, they’re actually quite affordable.) They were about three sizes too small when I first put them on, and they took some time to wear in. Now they’re the most comfortable pair of pants I own. I’ve never washed them, and they’re currently relegated to the weekend because of the smell. I’m considering a first soak soon, but just can’t bring myself to do it. – Jack Seemer

Belt Buckle

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My father found this belt buckle at a Texas flea market in the late 1970s. He wasn’t yet 30 at the time, and I was even younger when he gave it to me. He passed away a little over a year ago and it remains one of the few inherited objects I received that bypassed my brother, who is 8 years my senior and got his pick of my father’s closet. The buckle is simple: just three basic patterns cut from metal, stacked and melted onto a faceplate of copper. It’s undeniably cool, and it’s mine. When I’m wearing it, I sometimes think about the sturdy, half-inch latch on the back that sticks out at a perfect right angle. It’s a little longer than it needs to be and the cold metal sticks through the hole in my belt and presses slightly into my gut. But I don’t mind — it pressed into my father’s gut for 30 years before it started in on me. – J. Travis Smith

Robert Burns Poetry

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I picked up this collection of Robert Burns’ poetry in a cluttered bookstore in Edinburgh. Burns’ rolling, thickly brogued prose paints the Scottish language in a beautiful light, and I’m a sap for “Oh my luve’s like a red red rose…” I was ready to be parted from a significant number of pounds for an ancient copy for my bookshelf — I was in full-on tourist buying mode at the end of our trip — but then I saw that this damaged copy was only £10 and was inscribed “to [illegible], with love” and dated 1859. It’s not about being in perfect condition; it’s about the connection between Burns’ history, [illegible]’s, and mine. – Chris Wright

Kinco Gloves

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These gloves came into my possession from my previous job in construction. When battling the elements and temperatures in the teens, these have done the trick. Their leather exterior has been routinely abused with dirt, dust and snow, while the wool lining has been quietly deteriorating from years and years of use. They’ve seen better days, but it’s because of these imperfections that they’re that much more endearing. I wouldn’t recommend them for Everest, but for the everyday hammer-swinging, they’ve served me well. – Chase Pellerin

Apolis Keychain

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I think I’ve had this keychain for about 5 years now. It was a pretty meaningless purchase at first — it’s just a keychain. And for the first year or so, it was just that: a keychain. Then one day, I noticed how much the leather has changed. It didn’t have the bright tan color it once had, and I could see the effect of my daily use. Once I saw the change, it changed my relationship with the object. Now I think of it as irreplaceable, and I hope to carry it for the rest of my life. – Sung Han

Hand-Machined Pen

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A good pen is hard to find. This one landed on my desk at my first full-time writing gig, and through the wash of all the pens that came around, it’s the one that stuck around. The machined body is light in hand, and over time the metal’s taken on character from the oils in my fingers. From some angles, the color’s a simple, dull gray. But look in the right light and there’s an iridescence that pulls out blues and a hint of red. It bears the wear of my first days reporting and — like the first journal I filled with notes, interviews, and stray thoughts on the road — holds a rich nostalgia for my greenhorn era. – Matthew Ankeny

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