My cousin Colin recently wrote a heartwarming piece for Field & Stream about a fly-fishing vest he bought as a teenager. He loaded each pocket with gifts and reminders (“Charms”) from those he loves most, and he still carries it with him today, decades later. It was so touching to read (find it here), and it made me think about what things I treasure. My friend Jenny had the same idea, and wrote beautifully about it here.
“I’ve got ‘em, Mom. Let’s go.” The tornado alarm had sounded and we were heading to the basement. In his arms were what he has always been instructed to grab: his “Birthday Books.” Every April 12, we give Ben a new linen hardcover bound book narrating the past year of his life. Friends, trips, sports, events, milestones. The words are ones I’d never remember well enough to write now, and the photos, of course, are priceless. A tornado was spotted a few miles away, and there stood my son, holding the 10 volume story of his life. Down to the basement we hurried.
We have a clear tub in the basement that holds the DVDs and CDs of every family photo, every home video. That’s always the other thing we will grab if we ever have to escape our home in a hurry. But beyond each other—Scott, Ben, Stella, and me—and the Birthday Books and that tub, I like to say I’d be okay losing everything else. Certainly, those are my most golden treasures, but if I’m honest, I know there are more.
Boxes of love notes from Scott. My “Mom Book”, which is a blank 8 x 11 journal, swollen with cards, crafts, drawings, and messages from Ben to me for every holiday and birthday for over a decade and still going. The necklace charm made of my dad’s fingerprint impression. The letters my mom wrote me on every birthday I had, then gave to me at 21, first signed “Mommy,” then “Mom.” The sterling silver woven bracelet from Tiffany that Scott gave me for my 40th birthday. The watercolor of the house I grew up in on Drury Lane, my Nonny’s rosary, and my Grandma Brita’s, too, which I carried down the aisle at my First Communion, my Confirmation, and when I got married. The silhouette we had cut of Ben in Paris, which I had always wanted done while he was still a little boy. The sailboat painting from my dad’s lake cottage, next to which there was always too much food, laughter, drink, and fun. The last dog collar Peach ever wore, which hangs in Ben’s room now, a talisman from the first being (besides family) I ever loved more than myself. And the mahogany box with her ashes in it from the living room. Yes. She comes, too.
We are people with a lot of stuff, but I know we couldn’t grab everything. I have certain clothing items and home décor items I’d hate to lose. Blankets, Ben’s baby clothes, the onesie he wore home from the hospital when he was brand new. The journal I kept, detailing every feeling I was having when we were trying to conceive that boy. A big manila envelope in the attic with memorabilia from high school and college. There’s so much. Where do we draw the line?
We see people on the news after a natural disaster or a fire. They always have that shell-shocked expression on their faces. Where has everything gone? It’s the moment when a human is boiled down to their most naked core. When we are torn from our “stuff” to stand alone in the world. When what matters most suddenly becomes crystal clear. Remember this lady? I weep every time I watch it and hear her give thanks.
Our tornado that day never came, thank God. If it had, and if we had gotten out—Scott, Ben, Stella, and me—that’s all I’d really need. I know that. But if my “Charms” (as Colin called them) were lost, I truly would ache for them. They’re the physical touchstones that remind me of things I can no longer hold: Ben’s first decade of life, my dad, my grandparents, my childhood, high school, college. They’re all gone. But I can still pull out those items, hold them, and remember. They’re just things, I know. But because of what—and whom—they represent, they fill me up.