Keepsakes, mementos, scrapbooks, photographs and ticket stubs mean nothing to a stranger. But for the person who put them away, they are tickets to a day long past, a way to visit these who are gone or to see them in better times.
Few people get excited when co-workers share photos of a recent trip or their kids’ birthday party. That’s because they often seem boring, especially after you’ve seen a couple dozen of them. But we can look at countless photos of our own kids or trips that we’ve taken and recall those moments with crystal clarity. That’s because it is OUR memory that is attached to the picture.
Photos, letters, videos, souvenirs and the like are intended to prod our memory; that’s their primary purpose.
But things never intended to store memories can do just that.
After my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jim had both passed away about 20 years ago, my mom took me over to their place and told me I could take any furniture or whatever else I might want for my home. When I was finished looking everything over, the only thing I took was a decaying framed document that used to hang inside the cabin of my uncle’s boat.
As a kid I spent many days each summer on that boat with my mom and dad. We’d cruise Lake Erie. We’d barbecue on the boat and have dinner at the dock. And every time I was aboard I’d creep down into the cabin to look at what really fascinated me: a certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard honoring my uncle for journeying into the Arctic Circle where he and his shipmates captured a German U-boat! Stamped with an official seal, the handwritten commendation is signed by Neptunus Rex who warns others to take heed of my uncle or face his mighty wrath, and features a fearsome drawing of the King of the Seas himself. If that wasn’t enough, the first time I saw it I’d just finished reading an awesome Justice League of America comic in which Superman, Batman, the Flash, Hawkman and the rest of the crew battled it out with ... you guessed it, Neptunus Rex!
When I look at that document today, it still brings back everything — the trips on the boat, the trips to Edgewater Yacht Club on most summer Sundays, the taste of the Thousand Island dressing atop the salad inside the clubhouse and most importantly, my uncle and aunt themselves. I can still recall the slight creaking of the ropes as the boat swayed in its slip, while my family relaxed in the sun on the boat’s back deck. I remember being aboard on July 4, 1969, when the expected fireworks show was interrupted by one of the fiercest storms of the century.
All from a framed piece of paper.
I have an ancient fishing lure that caught hundreds of bass in its time. No longer made, the temptation to pull it out of mothballs and use it is strong — I know it will still catch fish. But I have a special slot for it in my tackle box, because it is a Heddon Cobra, which was my father’s favorite lure. Shaped like a long and slender minnow, the Cobra looked a lot like the similar Rapala bait, but was made of plastic instead of wood and had an irregular finish.
We’d go to Punderson or Aquilla lakes and toss the bait to the edge of the weedbeds and let it lay. Then we’d twitch it just a bit, so it would give off ripples. When the ripples died, we’d twitch it again. That’s when the water would usually explode as a bass engulfed it.
The Cobra I have is one my father used. I inherited it along with the rest of his tackle when he died back in 1987. It’s the last one he had and I’ve never used it. If I did, the best that could happen would be I’d catch a fish. The worst — I’d toss the bait into a tree or get snagged on a rock and lose it. That’s a risk I could never take.
The memories it holds — dozens of evenings on the lake with my dad — are priceless. I might be able to find another Cobra online, if I searched long enough and was willing to pay enough, but it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be my dad’s Cobra. And the memories would be missing.
They come with the object, you see, but you have to put them there.