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OPINION | GARY SMITH: Journey of a lifetime: From junk to cherished memento and back to junk again

Keepsakes become priceless, for a lifetime by Gary Smith | March 10, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.

It's ironic, actually. Of all the things you may have owned in your life, some that have the least dollar value might be the ones you'll never let go.

In a drawer in my house, along with cuff links (yep, wear those a lot) and spare change and some other useless artifacts is something whose purpose I really can't define.

It's a golf ball with three thumb tacks attached so it sits up. It also has googly eyes, the kind you buy by the bag full at a craft store.

I'm frankly not sure exactly what it's supposed to do. Paperweight, maybe? That would definitely make it a souvenir from a time when people wrote on paper and had to have something to keep those papers from blowing away. If that's it, it's not only useless, but not exactly a great gift for a person who prefers his desk as clutter-free as an airport runway.

It's frankly not even as useful as a fridge magnet, whose only purpose seems to be coming loose at inopportune moments and letting that party invitation fly away. At least that allows you a great excuse when you don't actually, you know, go to the party.

The fact it's buried in a drawer along with an obnoxiously large cowboy belt buckle (almost as useful as the cuff links) and Reagan/Bush campaign buttons (definitely a story for another time) shows just how little use I get out of it. Which, in a lot of circumstances, would make it a prime candidate to be thrown away during one of my periodic purges.

Except, I can say with complete certainty I'll never throw it away. Because it was a gift from my children.

I'm not even sure where they got it. I think it was one of those fundraiser deals at their elementary school where we give them money to go shopping and they come back with our Christmas presents. Things like tin cans covered in construction paper that are supposed to be pencil holders or ornaments made out of Popsicle sticks. Or golf balls with thumbtack legs and googly eyes.

I'm also not sure exactly what moved them to buy that particular thing for me, except I play golf and it involved a golf ball and, well, when you're 7, it all comes together like that.

But they were so excited to go shopping on their own (if by "on their own" we mean the halls of their school under the watchful eye of their parents, their teachers and about a thousand other assorted adults) and to find something they just knew I'd love. And I did. And do.

Disposing of it will be a job for the kids, but not until they've reminisced about how they shopped for it and wonder why they thought it was a good idea.

We have been cleaning out my mother-in-law's house, sifting through all the possessions accumulated over the years now that she has passed.

Lots of stuff, lots of time, lots of mementos that likely had value only to her.

It's sad, in a way. Like losing her all over again. And it forces us to confront another reality of our physical world. Things have to BE somewhere. They have to have a home, must be in a place. But we can't fill our houses with her life. We have lives of our own, our own pictures and paintings and souvenirs. Our own memories to preserve.

Would it have mattered, we wonder? If she knew that time and changing tastes would make some of the things she valued so much worth only a fraction of what she paid for them?

I hope not. I think not. I have no idea what my kids paid for that golf ball. Not a lot, I hope. But it made me happy and it made them happy. And the memory of that is why I'll never throw it away.

And for my mother-in-law, a different collection of items meant something to her. Memories of times and places. Her times. Her places. Her joys. If they don't have the value to others they had to her, what difference does it make? They had value to her because they meant something beyond what they were.

We all have those things and we keep them and we cherish them because they remind us. And if they have no value to others, well, that doesn't matter. They're our pictures. Our artifacts. Our memories.

Our googly-eyed golf balls.

Print Headline: Sentimental journey


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