I have wooden countertops in my kitchen, and I love them. I can take a dish straight from the oven and put it on the unprotected counter. I can chop veggies on our counters. They’re even fabulous for kneading bread.
I do all these things on my bare countertops, and certain people get nervous. I hear comments like, “Shouldn’t you put a trivet under that?” “Use a cutting board! You’ll leave knife marks all over the counters!” and, of course, “won’t water ruin it?”
The answer to these comments depends, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, on what your definition of the word “ruin” is. Might the hot pans, sharp knives, and water mark the counters? Definitely. Do I care? No. Won’t the counters look ugly? In my opinion, no. They’ll just develop a lovely patina.
In other people’s opinions, though, the wood isn’t beautiful if it’s not pristine. I wonder whether these are the same people who spend hours every week using lotions, creams, makeup, and cosmetic “procedures” to look young and “perfect.”
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not one of those people. I probably never will be. I only use moisturizer when my skin is dry. My hair is frizzy and I don’t generally use a “product” to correct that. I wear makeup so rarely that if I followed industry guidelines to replacing makeup, each item would become single-use (and prohibitively expensive.) I wear sunscreen when I’m likely to burn, but not just to leave the house and run errands. All these failures on my part will probably guarantee that in thirty years I’ll have wrinkles and freckles in record numbers. Know what? I don’t care.
My favourite guitar (yes, I have several) has a nasty crack in it, courtesy of a careless passerby at St. Jacobs farmer’s market, where I used to busk on weekends. It hasn’t affected the sound (not badly, at least,) and to me it’s a reminder that my guitar and I have gone places. Numerous small scratches offer a testament to the times my kids have tried to strum the guitar – admittedly, with materials not suitable for use as picks. The finish is uneven, too: the wood is darker and shinier at the bottom left side of the body, where my strumming arm rests, and at the top end of the neck, where my left hand glides up and down to form the chords. My guitar has a beautiful patina.
Our living room has hardwood floors. They look pretty good, considering that they date back to 1946, but there are quite a few shallow scratches, some gouges, and some spots where the stain is starting to look patchy. The scratches are from the kids moving furniture around (mostly their table and chairs,) the gouge is from the time we sold the refrigerator that came from the house (we were doing much of the renovation work ourselves,) and we just happen to rub certain parts of the floor more often than others (hence the uneven finish.) Our floors squeak, too. Every time I take a step, a floorboard says, “yup, lots of people like to walk on me. I’m part of a well-trodden path to the door, and have been for over sixty years!” Our floors have developed a patina.
When I think about it, my stuff never stays looking new for long. I spend more time using my things than thinking about how to keep them looking new, and that extends to my body. My hands are scarred from being bitten by autistic campers, cutting myself while installing new gutters, slicing my knuckle while deboning a chicken, and burning myself on my first attempt to fry schnitzel. If I hadn’t done any of those things I suppose my hands wouldn’t be scarred; on the other hand (no pun intended,) I wouldn’t have had any of those experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a person to trade in life experience – and the satisfaction of a job well done – for perfect skin.
The word “patina” only ever gets used in reference to materials or objects, but I think it can describe people rather well. People with patina have been places, done things, had adventures, and have the scars to prove it. People without patina may look very pretty, but I can only imagine that the constant preventative measures and maintenance required to keep looking that way take time away from actually living, just as polishing and displaying the guitar would take time away from actually playing it, and keeping the floors scratch-free would mean stopping the kids from playing in there. People with patina have this glow, this energy that tells you they’ve spent their time purposefully.
Just as I can sand and oil my countertops, I can clean myself up nicely when the need arises, and the combination of the makeup and the patina is what really makes me shine. I can only hope that my patina, just like the patina of my counters and guitar and home, deepens and becomes more interesting over time.
There are so many analogies here that I could go on writing all day. And now it occurs to me that you really can sum up my life’s philosophy in one word: Patina. Experience makes beauty.