What Do You Keep?

Jim and I took advantage some free time these last couple of weekends to do some much needed organizing of our storage space.  To understand why this is a major job, you need to remember that we’ve lived in this house for over  a decade and a half.  Moreover, it’s not just our house, it’s my office – and Jim’s several days a week (unless he’s in the field).  In addition to all my old manuscripts and such, I have boxes of books that are now out of print.  (See my website bookstore if you’re interested.)

Smokey, Ceram, and The Shirt

Yes.  We have dedicated office space (for a glimpse of one part, see WW 10-05-11) but necessary storage flows elsewhere, especially into the garage and the shed out back.  This last – which measures twelve by sixteen feet and is packed with bookshelves –  functions as a library.   There is storage space in the demi-attic above.   In case you wondered, this doesn’t eliminate the need for bookshelves in the house.  We have shelves in every room except the bathrooms and they only avoid the honor because they’re too small!

No.  We’re not hoarders…  Far from it.  However, both of us have a tendency to want to keep things that are tied to memories.  Here’s a good example.  C.W. Ceram wrote a wonderful book called Gods, Graves, and Scholars.  We currently have three copies. One was given to Jim by his grandmother when he was young and already showing an interest in archeology.  One is mine, given to me by Roger.  One was Roger’s copy.  I don’t tend to give Roger’s books away except to someone who will treasure them.  So each book contains a memory, as well as text.

In my bedroom closet hangs a flannel shirt that is frayed at the cuffs and so threadbare that one would need good eyes – and good imagination – to see that it was once printed with images of wolves and hawks.  I bought this shirt years ago, when Through Wolf’s Eyes was first released, and wore it at a lot of conventions as a sort of jacket against the inevitable chill of convention hotels.

However, the associations with my books is not why I have kept this shirt.  Some years ago, I was horribly sick with hives.  Making matters worse, the weather was so cold that I had to wear long sleeves.  This shirt – which had been handmade – had finished seams on the inside.  It was the only long-sleeved shirt I could bear to wear for months.  When it went into the wash, I suffered because any other shirt irritated the hives and made my arms swell.  In thanks for the comfort it brought me, that shirt will probably hang in my closet until it turns to dust.

Another precious keepsake is  my collection of old stuffed animals (or stuffy toys, as they are often called these days).  Even when I gave up almost everything else I owned, I kept these.  When I moved to New Mexico, I was a bit worried that Roger might not want them around, but I figured we could work out a compromise.  To my great pleasure, Roger not only wanted them around, he put up shelves for them in our bedroom.   He mentioned how much he regretted that his mother had thrown his old bear away to make him “grow up.”  And when our landlord – a man in at least his forties – came by to fix something, he commented “I wish I still had my old animals.”

And Jim?  When he moved in with me, he reclaimed his old Smokey the Bear from his parents and Smokey (clad in the trousers Jim’s mother made for him when the originals wore out) has joined the zoo in our bedroom.  Dare I admit there have been some new additions?  Steve and Jan Stirling gave me a howling wolf…  There’s the seahorse we got in Galveston…

Having been in the position of clearing up after several deaths, I’ve become familiar with the strange sensation of looking at something and wondering if someone kept it only because he  never got around to getting ride of it or because – like my old shirt – it held a special significance for the original owner.  It’s hard to know, but those secret stories, never to be told,  haunt me.

These days, I tend to feel I “know” a character if I can answer what he or she would keep, even though to anyone else it would be trash.  Firekeeper, for example, would keep her original knife, even if offered one far better.  She’d probably accept a new one, but she’d keep that first one because, to her, it was the means of survival – her one fang that kept her from being toothless (as well as nose dead and otherwise crippled) in the world of wolves.

Pearl (of Thirteen Orphans and the other “Breaking the Wall” books) has a home filled with reminders of events in her long life, not only her triumphs in the movies, but of her later phases as she reinvented herself.  Riprap, by contrast, is an army brat who doesn’t keep a lot.  However, I know that back in Denver there’s an old footlocker filled with those things he hasn’t given up.  That footlocker would be the first thing he’d take with him to make a new place “home.”  This isn’t ever mentioned in the books, but knowing it was there made Riprap more real to me.

I’m not alone in this characterization trick.  One of the most heartbreaking moments in the Lord of the Rings saga is when Sam finally gives up the pots and pans he has carried with him for so long – not only because they are practical, but because they are a tie to the world he has left behind.  He’s not the only member of the fellowship to keep a private treasure or two – and not all of these are as dramatic as heirloom swords.

How about you?  What do you keep?  Do you store your memories in things or in other ways?  Do you ever consider what your wandering characters hold onto?

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5 Responses to “What Do You Keep?”

  1. Deborah N Says:

    Boy, is this a timely post. Our last move after being in one house for 10 years (a record for me); was quick and paid for by the company, so weeding out wasn’t deep. Now after almost 5 years here, we are weeding deeply as we plan to move from Texas to Hawaii on our dime.

  2. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I may make you blush, because I still have some of the first e-mails you and I traded way back when. They remind me of how we started, and where our friendship has gone since. I re-read them from time to time, and shake my head thinking, “My gosh, what I really that young?”

    Other keepsakes include a tiny knife that’s not very sharp that my aunt gave me that means the world to me. A copy of the “Where the Red Fern Grows” with a special dedication to a beloved pet hand written on the inside cover by my mom. A couple odds and ends that I’ll admit, I sometimes don’t know the full story myself, which makes no sense I’m sure, but it’s true. Others just have stories too long to tell. 🙂

  3. Paul Says:

    Mostly books, in my case. Our basement is all bookshelves. But everyone of those paperbacks (dating back to when they cost a quarter!) meant something to me, and a few I’ve re-read several times. There are some hardbacks, too, mostly gifts when I was young at Christmases and birthdays, inscribed from the givers, and very meaningful to me. (Now, if I had only managed to hold onto all my old comic books… Who knew what would be valuable one day??)

  4. janelindskold Says:

    I think the funny thing is that “value” doesn’t necessarily have a ticket price.

    I don’t envy Deborah N. and her culling. I had to do a lot of that at one point and it took me years and years before I could do it again!

  5. Hilary Says:

    Meant to reply to this earlier but have been so busy. O.O

    I keep my stuffed animals. I have over 50 at my last count but that may be closer to 60 now (oops. lol). As of now, many of them are slated to go into storage, but that’s a compromise for space and because I can’t imagine getting rid of any of them. (One stuffed dog toy was even given to me the day I was born). I also keep books. (I have all of your books, for instance. 😉 ) And in some cases I have multiple copies. I read my paperback copy of Watership Down so many times it’s nearly split in half. And though my mom got me a beautiful hardback copy I still have the paperback because I know no one else will treasure this old, beat up paperback as much as I do and it may even be thrown out by someone, which is an unbearable thought.

    I definitely believe memories are tied into things. I could probably tell you the origin of everything in my room, as well as memories of those objects besides. I even have a little box filled with silly things, most of which have no use. But they remind me of times in my life (like my tenth birthday party, where my cake had tiny plastic rocking horses on it, one of which I kept. Or some beads from the craft boxes that we had all through my childhood, and which we ended up donating to a school, that remind me of the hundreds of craft projects/parties/days my family had when my brother and I were kids) and they’re worth more than they normally would be in my eyes because of it.

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