(This column ran yesterday, but after my big party, I was too tired to post it until now!)
Fair warning. This column is schmaltzy. I offer my apologies up front. You see, today is my last day to be 49. And while I am very cool with that, I have reflected more in the past week than usual.
Before launching into the sentimental journey, I owe thanks to Carolyn Pons, a participant in a writing workshop I facilitated this week. She inspired a different perspective on my soon to be 50 years in her piece called “Things don’t last” about her upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.
She and her husband tried to remember all the things they had through the years. She started with a blue vase they purchased in Gatlinburg on their honeymoon. Chronicling the years, they added up how many sofas, how many cars, how many washers and dryers, etc. Her husband deducted that, in fact, things don’t last — but somehow their marriage had.
Carolyn’s recantation of three sofas, seven cars and an orange candle put me to thinking. As I celebrate a 50th anniversary (of my birth), what do I have that has lasted through the years? With Carolyn’s blessings in the sharing of her idea, here goes:
My oldest possession is the tiny woven twill river cane basket my great-great grandfather, William Hawkins, gave me when I was five years old. I believe it was the first week of November and remember the day vividly. I went to see him with my grandmother and my great-grandmother, his daughter and granddaughter. I was his oldest great-great grandchild and remember sitting near him in a rather dark room, with light coming in through the window. He gave me this little basket that he told me he made earlier in his life. I knew it was something to keep because this guy was old! In homage to my roots, I’ve taken the tiny basket with me for each of the moves of my life.
Since I was the first great, great grandchild, the folks around me did their best to make sure that I appreciated the significance of these moments and carried their stories with me. You may wonder how I’m sure exactly when my great-great grandfather gave me this little basket. The truth is I remember earlier that day or week, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Harris, sent a note home with each of the students in my class. The mimeographed note said that PBS was going to start a new television show just for kids — and the show would be called “Sesame Street.” The iconic children’s show first aired Nov. 10, 1969. My great-great grandfather died Dec. 30 that same year.
Aside from elementary school yearbooks, my other oldest possessions are few and far between. In one of my high school yearbooks I have nine ribbons I earned in track and field in junior and senior high school. Turns out the benefit of placing third, fourth and fifth is that the ribbons’ colors hold. My only blue ribbon, won in the seventh grade for the 440 relay, is now an interesting shade of brown.
Most of my ribbons are from relay races, but the most prized two are from the high jump and low hurtles. The truth was that I was a mediocre-at-best hurdler and high jumper, but I enjoyed the thinking and practice required to get my whole self over those bars. I knew I would never be great, but clearing the high jump bar and the hurdles offered a definite sense of satisfaction and joy that is difficult to explain or duplicate. Either you made it over or you didn’t. In a world that isn’t very cut and dried, I still find that the things that are refresh me.
The third thing I found that I’ve had with me a long time is a small wooden box I bought at the USS Alabama gift shop when I was 10. It’s the kind of small, carved wooden trinket box with a hinged lid that holds change, charms and old cookie fortunes. Inside, there is one-dollar coin from 1974. My grandfather gave it to me the same year I bought the box. Also, there are a few safety pins, buttons and two charms. One charm is from Philmont Scout Ranch. A friend gave it to me years ago. The other is a Sweet 16 charm I bought for myself the day before my 17th birthday — my last day to be 16. I bought it because I recognized that there would come a time when I’d want proof I had been 16. I realized time was passing fast.
I was right.