Sentimental Things

I tend to attach a lot of sentimental value to certain items that, to anyone else, appear worthless or worn to the point they should be discarded. Some examples:

I have a large dish cloth that my maternal grandmother finished by hand with a blanket stitch in yellow and brown yarn. In second or third grade, I remember watching her do this work during one of the rare visits my grandparents made from their home in Kansas to ours in Washington state. She liked to keep her hands busy with sewing, stitching, or crocheting, even though her finger joints were swollen and bent with arthritis. (She taught me all those skills, and I’m thankful she did, as you’ll see later this post.) She showed me how she carefully ironed the edges over each other several times to form a sturdy edge ready to accept the stitches. As a young adult, I ended up with two of her finished dish cloths. The white cotton fabric she chose is so absorbent; store-bought dish towels can’t match it. One wore out, so I’m down to the last one, using it sparingly to dry the glasses that come out of the dishwasher with some water clinging. Virtually all of her blanket stitching has been destroyed by years of machine washings.

A few of the blanket stitches that remain on Grandma's dish cloth.
Some of the remaining blanket stitches on Grandma’s hand-finished dish cloth.

I’ve been wearing pearl stud earrings 24/7, year-round, since…? At least ten years, after I lost one of the only other pair of earrings I wore regularly, studs with small, green stones (jade? turquoise?) my ex-boyfriend Mike brought me from Colombia. The pearl earrings were a gift from my father when I graduated law school, so I could look classy and professional in court. (His words.) By my mid-thirties, I quit wearing any other earrings. Just the studs, alternating green and pearls every few weeks, or months. They both went with everything and honestly, I don’t worry about such things. Now it’s just the pearls, and I hope I never lose one. I know it’s odd to wear such nice earrings all the time, especially pearls. Maybe I’ve aged into them? Twenty years ago, at a session of my dog camp, a couple new to camp took me aside at the end of the weekend. Lesbians, they admitted they wondered whether I might be one as well. They decided I wasn’t. “The pearl studs settled it. No self-respecting lesbian would be seen wearing them,” they said, all of us laughing.

Most of my home decorations are gifts. I didn’t choose them, but I grew attached to them and they have place of honor. There are the two area rugs from Nepal, gifts from an old boyfriend; an oil painting (still unframed) given to my father as a gift, a dirt path winding through woods and fields, painted by a Japanese airline pilot visiting Boeing for training in the 1960s; several ceramic and glass vases, each a Christmas gift from Mike, one per year over several years, purchased at a local artists co-op.

I have a woven door handle decoration given to everyone in our group of trail runners upon arriving in Peru in May of 2000 for a guided, multi-day run on the Inca Trail, ending in Machu Picchu. (Best trip and trail running experience of my life.)

And there are the necklaces of sea shells from far flung places, and one of polished stones from Africa, gifts my father would bring me during his international travels for Boeing. I was in high school at the time. They have adorned my bedroom and closet door handles for decades.

Collars and a leash coupler holding plaster paw prints of Maia and Meadow hang on my bedroom wall. My decision to leave Idaho initially created a moment of panic: I would no longer be able to visit the cairns in the forest where I’d left their cremains. I couldn’t leave them behind! Then I remembered: I still had some cremains, and I had a pile of rocks in my garage, each from a place of significance to me and them, waiting to become a cairn at my Idaho home. Instead, they came to Vermont – a box of rocks. This past summer I built that cairn, reverently adding the girls’ cremains, and felt happy. Sentimentality on steroids.

Snow-covered rock cairn in a yard.
The cairn appears to be smiling in the season’s first snowfall. November 17, 2022.

I share these examples so maybe you’ll understand why I spent a good chunk of a recent afternoon with needle and thread (thank you, Grandma), performing surgery on Finn’s favorite dog toy: a stuffed, yellow Smiley Face/teddy bear. I would never consider tossing this toy. It has far too much sentimental value to me.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve performed surgery on this toy in order to keep it.

The toy came into my possession shortly after I moved to Idaho. In 2006, I was director of a domestic violence prevention non-profit there. We had a safe house stuffed with donated teddy bears of all sizes and colors. I used the house to meet with clients, and often took my Malamutes, Maia and Meadow, to work with me. One day, Meadow decided she liked a yellow Smiley Face teddy bear toy. She took it off a shelf and gently cradled it between her front paws. Having had it in her mouth, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it, so I brought Smiley Face home and it became Meadow’s favored toy. She carried it from room to room, snuggled with it, but never chewed it. Over time, she ended up with two other teddy bears. She treated them all with respect. (Thankfully, Maia wasn’t interested in any of Meadow’s bears.)

When Finn joined our pack in the summer of 2008, Meadow taught him that the teddy bears were hers, so other than slobber stains, Smiley Face remained in good shape.

After Meadow passed in 2013, Finn adopted Smiley Face. Just like Meadow, he never chewed on it. Finn picked it up in his mouth when he was especially excited, like at meal time or when a guest arrived. Twice every day, as I prepare to fill the boys’ bowls with kibble, Finn finds Smiley Face and follows me through the house, prancing eagerly with Smiley Face in his mouth. It’s endearing.

Smiley Face can get dirty, especially if taken outside in wet conditions. Every now and again I toss him in the washing machine along with dog towels and rugs and he comes out fresh and revived.

Enter mischievous Conall in 2015. Knowing Smiley Face was Finn’s personal toy, Conall sometimes tries to steal it from him while waiting for food bowls to appear on the floor, resulting in a tug-of-war. Or, if Smiley Face is all alone of the floor, Conall might pick him up and taunt Finn with it, daring Finn to reclaim it. The result, a few years ago, was nearly-severed arms and a broken neck for Smiley Face, requiring “surgery” to make him whole again.

Smiley Face arrived in Vermont in good shape, but now, 18 months later, he needs more surgery. He really needs a bath, too, but to avoid losing his innards, surgery had to come first.

Getting out my sewing basket – the one I’ve had since grade school, my grandmother helping me fill it with various colors of thread, needles, scissors, and a measuring tape – brought back memories of watching Grandma blanket stitch the dish cloths. Of her patiently helping me learn to crochet. She had little in common with her tomboy grandchild (I was the only girl), but these skills were something she could share with me during the evenings when she visited. She ended up giving me the life-long gift of self-sufficiency, learning practical skills like mending clothing, adjusting hems, darning socks, re-attaching buttons, making blankets.

Stitching Smiley Face together again, memories of the three dogs (so far) who have played with him floated through my mind and led to memories of other things – the earrings, necklaces, and other gifts – that have high sentimental value to me, prompting this post. All fond, happy memories, which is why I wear or display the items where I see them every day.

When I was preparing for my move from Idaho to Vermont, I donated a lot of household “stuff.” Dishware, small appliances, clothes, books… things that had no sentimental value to me. I was surprised how much there was, how cluttered my house had become over fifteen years. That exercise was cathartic. Having less stuff is freeing.

What I brought with me to Vermont was what I needed or held sentimental value.

The real comfort of my new home comes from the latter.

12 thoughts on “Sentimental Things”

  1. I completely understand. While there’s nothing like a good closet purge to free up space… there are certain things I can never let go of either. And just like your beautiful dog, I have a sad and age weathered stuffed animal that I’ve carried for 53 years. A small owl my late father gave me when I was 5. It no longer has feet or ears , and last year it lost an eye thanks to our cat… but it still has pride of place on my bed. I can’t remember ever bring without it.

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  2. I understand your sentimental things fully. We have a popular TV programme on the BBC called the repair shop where people bring personal treasures that have broken – often of no monetary value but full of memories and they repair/preserve them. An interesting watch.

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  3. I love Smiley Face, wonderful story and legacy. Reading your post, I realized that most of the things in my house have sentimental value but the really IMPORTANT relics are in my studio. A waterbag from a Bedouin’s camel my boyfriend, Peter, brought back from Saudi Arabia. Another boyfriend’s incredible photo of the Taj Mahal and a hanging he brought back from Guatemala. Photos of my kitchen in China and the Cinque Terre. My colored pencils were a Christmas gift from my Swiss/Italian “dad,” people whose stories and mine connected in very private ways.

    In another room is my dad’s Trans-Oceanic radio. Someone wanted to buy it for parts and I said, “No, I don’t think so.” Some things from China — well many things from China. A wanderweg sign from a forest in Switzerland which I used to keep nailed over my front door with the idea that as soon as I stepped out, I was on a hiking trail. A painting of an old barn in Montana that I don’t even like but it belonged to my paternal grandfather then my mom. It’s beautiful, an example of Western Impressionism. I dunno… I keep trying to cull these things, but some have too much content ❤️

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    1. A wonderful list of mementos that spark memories for you, Martha! Exactly like my own.

      After I’m gone, whoever is tasked with going through my stuff will wonder, “Why on earth did she have that? What does it signify?” And that’s how it should be.

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  4. I understand why you keep repairing Smiley Face for Finn. They can have a lot of toys, but still have certain ones they prefer. I recently repaired Tesla’s oldest toy. It was a goofy looking yellow duck. I had just washed it in the sink and mended it for her. When I wasn’t paying attention, she took it outside and buried it somewhere. She came inside with a dirty snout since she often likes to finish her holes with her nose. Will I ever find it? Probably not. She must have thought it was time to put it to rest. 😀

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