Is it human nature to save odd bits and pieces of our past lives? Cleaning out a closet can be a deeply emotional journey.
A fragile plaster tortoise purchased from the Museum of Natural History in NYC sometime in the early 1960’s and a tiny stuffed zebra of unknown origins grace the shelf below my bathroom mirror. I fiercely coveted these mementos as a child. My brother was seldom without one or the other. Shortly after a birthday or Christmas, I would amass a collection of new toys in the hope he would trade something for either one. I loved the zebra most, but the tortoise was creepily realistic. We never did strike a bargain and as we grew up, the toys faded into boxes and bookcases as our hearts’ desires turned to record albums and cars.
I would gladly give them up today for the knowledge that they were quietly stashed in some box of keepsakes in his world, but that is impossible.
They say people very close to death often speak to others who have departed. I know this happened when my dad died. Hours before his death he sat straight up in bed and began addressing his mother. But what of him do I harbor? Beyond the fading photographs, my favorite of him aboard his sailboat – The Fleeting Funds – charmingly handsome in a jaunty captain’s cap, what piece of our history survives today? He gave me owls as a child; owl necklaces and owl statues. I can’t remember us discussing why owls. I childishly translated it to his belief in my wisdom. If I close my eyes and let my mind drift, I can picture the owls that sit in my office today, atop the pine dresser in the room of my childhood.
A set of Balinese masks and a pair of Nepalese Sherpa mukluks. Everyone’s journey is different in life and the things we pick up along the way speak volumes about who we are and where we have been.
In the late 1970’s I lived in the farmland and oil fields of Southern Illinois. When the farmers died and there was no one to take over the home, auctions were held to sell everything off. The land went to the highest bidder among the oil companies. Amid the antique furniture, farm implements, tools and house wares, there were always large boxes of “odd lots”. It was as if the auctioneer just got tired of going through and cataloging stuff. These boxes sold for pennies and contained the possibilities for treasures amid the majority of trash. Inevitably, there would be a small, faded jewelry box and cushioned inside would be a soft curl of hair and a cracked baby’s tooth.
Is it a universal keepsake? What will someone think when my belongings are being distributed and they come across my tiny box of hair and tooth?