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Mementos Make A House Homey

Updated on November 14, 2022
A ceramic keepsake from an artist friend
A ceramic keepsake from an artist friend

My Favorite Keepsakes & Their Stories About Us

I like to think I'm not materialistic. In fact, I can't stand clutter and am always looking for things neither my husband nor I have used in a long time and can't see us using any time soon -- things we might give away, sell or trade. And having lived through a flash flood in which many of our belongings were ruined, I realize how little material things really mean. My husband and my pets are everything.

At the same time, though, there are items around the house that do have sentimental value and I'd be disappointed to lose them. Each time we've moved, these are mementos that make me smile when I unpack them, and I take care in choosing the right spot -- the right shelf or wall space -- to display them. And once I have these keepsakes in place, the new house looks more like home.

Here, I'd like to show you some of those favorite keepsakes and tell you a bit about them. Of course, it's really the memories they conjure up that's more important than the things themselves.

Keepsakes from Israel
Keepsakes from Israel

A Memento from the Holy Land: Wooden Candlesticks From A Mystery Man

Who was he, and why did he give these to me?

I was sixteen, on a summer-long trip to Israel with a group of chaperoned teenagers. We spent those months traveling the country, living and working on kibbutzim, hiking, sightseeing, learning, maturing (and, of course, flirting). It was an experience I'll never forget. I'm so glad I kept a diary of the trip, which I just finished re-reading, now 23 years later.

During the first of two visits to Jerusalem that summer, I visited the Western--or Wailing--Wall. After following tradition by placing my private, hand-written note in a tiny space between stones then milling around for a while, watching people pray, celebrate, dance, talk and even cry, I wandered over to the steps that led out of the square and took a seat, to people-watch from a higher vantage point.

It was there that I was joined by an old (make that ancient-looking), Hassidic gentleman in black clothing and black hat, with pure white payots hanging on either side of his face. He sat two steps behind and above me as I ate my peanut butter sandwich. I turned to look at him, and he greeted me with a semi-toothless grin, a nod and Hebrew words I didn't understand. Then he offered me some of the bread he was eating. I hesitated but accepted. Not knowing what to do next, I offered him a piece of my peanut butter sandwich. He didn't hesitate for a moment.

Several weeks later, during a second stay in Jerusalem, our group revisited The Wall. This time, part of the visit was intended for honorary Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for those of us who'd never had them back home on our 13th birthdays. I'd memorized my Hebrew lines phonetically, but I had no idea what they meant.

After the brief ceremony and picture-taking, I headed back towards the steps. I was feeling tired and not in the mood for dancing or chatting. I returned to that same step I'd occupied on my previous visit.

While I was sitting there, watching all the activity below, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning to look behind me, I saw a figure silhouetted against the sun. He stooped, and I recognized that same Hassidic gentleman I'd shared bread and peanut butter with! Was this a coincidence? To my surprise, he handed me a brown paper bag, patted my head, and as quickly as he'd appeared, he was up the stairs and gone.

How odd, I thought. Did he just give me his lunch? But when I opened the bag, my mouth dropped open as well. Inside were the two wooden candlesticks you see here. And that's really all there is to the story.

A Scene from the Wailing Wall

A Scene from the Wailing Wall
A Scene from the Wailing Wall

Display Your Smaller Keepsakes in a Shadow Box

My parents used to have one of these, hanging on the wall in their bedroom. Theirs was an antique, stained dark, and there was a small memento in each window. I remember when I was a child, standing there studying each one, each time as though I was discovering them for the first time.

My dad used to tell me stories about those keepsakes, from the WWII medals to the toy soldiers, the figurines, the unusual shells and other knickknacks. I don't know what ever happened to that shadow box or the little treasures it held.

Darice Natural Unfinished Wood Craft Display Memory Box, One Size
Darice Natural Unfinished Wood Craft Display Memory Box, One Size
This one is two inches deep, which is a nice space for holding small items so they won't fall out. You might use a bit of glue or two-sided sticky tape for extra security.

A Keepsake from a Special Day: Our Wedding Invitation and a Haiku By My Husband

Trail leads to twilight....

I met my future husband when we both went to work at the remote, snowed-in Kaibab Lodge on Grand Canyon's northern rim. Just eighteen of us would be employed there for the winter -- fifteen guys and three girls. One of the girls was married to one of the guys, and the other girl preferred girls. So it was really like me and fourteen single guys. And I picked the nicest, sweetest, fuzziest of them all to be my best friend. We shared many common passions, including hiking and the great outdoors. We clicked from day one.

Three years later, that same man wrote this haiku for me for our wedding day:

Trail leads to twilight

Winding in and twisting out.

We walk, holding hands.

I just love it. My fiancée designed the wedding invitations too, with a photo of the Grand Canyon scene we enjoyed many times that winter we met. (The haiku was printed on the translucent front flap, but it's faded now, so I've lifted the cover up for this picture.)

Wedding invitation keepsake
Wedding invitation keepsake

A Keepsake from my Mother-in-Law: A Quilted Anniversary Gift

Made with loving care

My mother-in-law, is a very talented quilter. She made a wonderful bed quilt for us as a wedding gift (pictured below). So she finished it a few years after the wedding. That's okay, better late than never, and I love it. On the back of the quilt, she even embroidered that haiku her son wrote for me.

Several years later, my mother-in-law told me she was working on quilted wall-hanging -- a San Francisco Peaks scene from here in Flagstaff -- for our anniversary. Okay, so it was a couple anniversaries later that she actually gave it us, but I sure do love this quilt, too.

Maybe I should ask now for a replacement bed quilt. Ours might wear out in a decade or so. :)

Keepsake quilt
Keepsake quilt
Keepsake quilt
Keepsake quilt

A Natural Memento: Gourd Art From Our Life On The Farm

Keepsakes from seed

In 1998, my husband and I moved from a small New England farm to a gentleman's farm in Pennsylvania. We were property caretakers, living on the land in the owners' absence, tending to the animals, the grounds, the buildings and equipment and to our own interests in our rather abundant free time. Among those interests was gardening. We grew most of our own food and then some. The "and then some" included gourds.

Pictured here are several of the gourds I turned into something else, two of which are useful (the pitcher holds water, and the bowl works fine for soup and cereal) and one just for fun. That one is called "James in the Giant Gourd."

Whenever I look at these gourds, I'm reminded of our years on RamCat Farm. In turn, I think of the animals we knew and loved and all the things we learned, like how to make hay and shear angora goats. Farming -- even on a gentleman's farm -- was sometimes hard work, but we cherish the experience and the memories.

Gourd art
Gourd art

A Keepsake from a Long Journey: A Special Backpack

Used on a bucket list trek

My backpack from the Appalachian Trail

When I was 17, I became a student at the University of New Hampshire. Soon after, I joined the New Hampshire Outing Club and began hiking in the nearby White Mountains nearly ever weekend.

One afternoon, as I walking along Franconia Ridge, one of my hiking companions told me, "If you follow this trail that way, you can go all the way to Maine. If you go the other way, you can end up in Georgia." We were standing on the Appalachian Trail.

"Wow!" I replied. "Has anyone ever done the whole thing?" Little did I know, thru-hiking that 2,200-mile footpath was becoming ever more popular. Well, I decided then and there, I would someday walk the length of that trail myself.

That dream simmered for ten years, until it bubbled to the surface full force in 1998. My husband and I were living on that New England farm I mentioned, in Kent, Connecticut, which just happened to be an A.T. trail town. It was there that I met a thru-hiker at the laundromat and inundated him with questions, all of which he was gracious enough to answer in great detail. For two more years, the A.T. was at the forefront of my mind.

Later that year, we moved to RamCat Farm in Pennsylvania. And that caretaking situation was such that I could get away to finally fulfill that A.T. dream while my supportive, wonderful husband took care of our responsibilities on the property. In fact, he encouraged me to go, to do what I'd thought about (and talked his ear off about) for a long time.

So, in April, 2000, I took my first step on the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain in Georgia. Roughly 5 million steps later (so they say), I reached that final white blaze on Maine's Mt. Katahdin. I have so many memories and a number of mementos from those six months on the trail, including this squeaky Kelty external frame backpack. It's retired from backpacking now, but it's one of my favorite keepsakes and home decorations, usually leaning up somewhere against a wall.

And if my worn-out A.T. hiking boots hadn't washed away in that flash flood back in 2003 in Arizona's Bradshaw Mountains, they'd probably be sitting right next to that backpack.

A keepsake from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike
A keepsake from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike

Art Pieces From Our Favorite Ceramicist

Hand-made keepsakes

My husband and I lived at a place called Lowell Observatory, located at the top of Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell is where Pluto was discovered and a place where my husband spent much of his boyhood years and now is employed. The observatory and the people who live and work there are very special to us, and we're so fortunate to have called it home.

One of our Lowell neighbors was long-time Buildings & Grounds Supervisor and ceramicist extraordinaire, Jerry McLaughlin. Jerry had a kiln and pottery studio at the Observatory and taught a ceramics class at the local Community College. He's not only been my husband's coworker and instructor, but he's also a wonderful friend, so we're happy to decorate our home with some of Jerry's beautiful pieces, including the vessels and plate you see here.

Memento from a ceramicist friend
Memento from a ceramicist friend

An Achievement Keepsake: #21035 From The Country Music Marathon

I know it's just a piece of Tyvek, but ... still.

I've never been what you might call a natural runner. Just not built that way, I guess. I did run cross-country in junior high and high school, but while I made the Varsity team, I never was one of the faster runners. Endurance, though, was my strong point.

After high school, I stopped running and turned instead to hiking and eventually long-distance backpacking. But I'm a very goal-oriented person, and, in 2007, when I got my mind stuck on completing a marathon, I had to start jogging again.

At first, I struggled to do two miles. I could hike 20 or more in a day, but somehow the act of running -- loping, more like -- just did me in. Must use different lungs and muscles for running than hiking.

Eventually, though, I'd worked my way up to six miles, then ten. And in January, 2008, I ran the Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona, finishing in just over 2 hours. Next would be the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee on April 26th.

For three months more, I ran nearly every day, building up to 18 miles by early April. Training here in Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet above sea level (and sometimes hiking to more than 12,000 feet) had really made a difference when I ran the half-marathon in Phoenix, which is at about the 1,500-foot elevation. So I figured, with the Country Music Marathon being at just 500 feet above sea level, I could probably get away with running less than 26.2 miles before the big day.

And that turned out to be true. I did hit the proverbial "wall" at right around mile 22 and walked as much as jogged till mile 25. Then, when I could hear the huge crowd and music at the stadium in downtown Nashville a mile away, my energy returned full-force, and I ran over the finish line, beating my goal time of 5 hours by six minutes. I checked "run a marathon" off my list ... and went back to hiking.

Country Music Marathon keepsake
Country Music Marathon keepsake
Marathon keepsake
Marathon keepsake

That round, green sticker, by the way, has a #14 on it, because that was the corral number I moved up to. I'd originally overestimated how long it was going to take me to complete the marathon when I first signed up. By race day, I was pretty confident I could move up to a faster corral. Turns out, I could have moved up even a bit more, but that really didn't matter.

And That's the End of the Keepsake Show-and-Tell

For now...

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury


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