I knew it for years before she died, but since her death and since going through boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, it has been officially confirmed: my mom saved everything. No joke. When I say “everything,” I mean it. I have report cards from elementary school, newspaper clippings for when I was on the honor roll, drawings that I did in art class while in kindergarten, and a sundry of other mementos from my early life and childhood.
What’s been really funny to me is to see how some of these mementos have acted like mental dominos, triggering memories of other mementos which trigger memories of others and others and others beyond that. I can get lost in the memories that are conjured up by the smallest of trinkets or even the faintest of smells.
I found a tape of me singing that I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure where. My mom had played it for me over and over again as I was growing up. When I found it after looking high and low, I played it for my kids, who were getting quite a kick out of hearing their dad sing songs like “The Monkees” theme song, “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple” theme song, and a few others.
It’s simply amazing to me how these things have the power of transporting me to a different time and place. That seems to be the power of our senses, all five of them, they can take us away to a place and time far away. With a simple sound or smell or word even, we can find ourselves dreaming about something that happened long ago.
I mentioned to someone the other day that I kept a bottle of my father’s cologne that sits next to my sink in the bathroom. On occasion, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I will reach down and pick up that bottle, put it up to my nose, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in. The day that it usually takes me to was a day when my father was in the rehab facility where he eventually died. I had realized how much of a creature of habit he was when he would get upset with me for not giving him specifics about when I would be arriving to pick him up.
One day, I told him exactly when I would be there and when I got there, I walked into his room to find him dressed nicely with a shirt and tie on. I searched my memory to try to figure out whether I was forgetting something. Did we have an appointment with an attorney or someone else that had slipped my mind? I didn’t think so. So, I said to him, “Why are you all dressed up, Dad?” He just looked up at me with a big smile and said, “My son was coming to visit me.” Cue the lump in my throat. What a special day it was and that’s the day that my brain conjures up every time that I take a deep breath of his cologne.
It’s ironic that things like homemade tapes and bottles of cologne might be consider “gold.” Many people might be looking around for the things that have monetary value, but those things pale in comparison to what I’ve found. These are the things from which memories are made. There is no price that could be attached to them, their value is priceless.
It certainly makes me think through what it is that I am leaving for my children. I hope that memories like these are the things that they value above everything else. When we spend time with those we love, we embed that time into our memories, creating moments that we can call up from our memory banks when we want them or need them. Those are the gifts to me and I am so grateful to have had them.