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Talismans, Collections or Junk?

Not unlike many people, throughout much of my life I’ve used a piece of jewelry or other item as a good luck charm or as a way of bringing home with me, as I moved around the eastern United States. I definitely remember unpacking my 1940’s kitchen utensils after moving to Pennsylvania and thinking, Okay, this is home now. But sixty-eight years of living has allowed the talismans and collections to grow. Particularly since I could rival a wizard pulling out items for a spell as I tried to quell my anxiety or lift myself from depression.

While I lived in Pennsylvania, my mother passed away in Texas following a lengthy illness. After the funeral, I had just a few days to help my siblings sort through her things. Mother and I always appreciated the small things which survived decades of disuse after being tossed aside. The old cobalt blue Bromo Seltzer bottle without its label, its top rusted, is a perfect example of things we saved from the trash heap as we went through the box lots purchased at auction to stock our shop. It invoked the everyday lives of its owner to me much more than a set of antique Lenox china. Let's be real. I couldn't afford modern Lenox china, much less an antique set.

My siblings and I began going through boxes. Sorting: keep, donate, toss. Momma had kept several years’ worth of cardboard advertising signs from her business and entire shelves of sewing patterns and fabric. There were a few items we each kept, but sadly, we donated or tossed away most of it. She had already given me much of what she wanted me to have when I helped her pack for the move to Texas. For me, it was a painful experience going through her things, having to decide what to do with her favorite coffee cup or blouse. I made a vow to take control of all my extra stuff so my children wouldn’t have to face that pain.

Since then, I’ve made it a practice to go through my things and sort out what I use, need, or want, on a fairly regular basis. In some homes, my collections of nursing related items, sewing items, depression glass and kitchen utensils have remained packed away since there was no place to display them. Moving into my current home three years ago, I renewed my vow and I’ve been steadily working through my collections. Always asking myself. What has meaning? What evokes warm memories?

Over the winter, I gave myself a timeframe in which to winnow the collections down to manageable sizes and to get another display cabinet since frequent dusting is a royal pain and eventually damages some items. Last summer, I got things down to two medium moving boxes. I displayed everything else throughout my home.

But I digress — back to the talisman. A few months ago, I was taking part in an event, and I was a little nervous about it. For the first time, I was publicly reading some of my work. Reading for my critique groups didn’t count. Getting ready, I slipped on a topaz ring mother had given me over forty years ago, but it felt heavy on my hand and not wanting to be distracted, I put it back in my jewelry box. After a few breathing exercises and mental reminders to myself, I went on my way. A few days later, seeing the ring in my jewelry box, I realized everything mother ever taught me was in my heart and embodied in my children. How freeing not to need a thing to feel centered and calm.

Recently I got the final display cabinet. If it can’t fit nicely in this cabinet, it must go. I told myself. Starting was easy because some things were in an overcrowded cabinet in my sewing room, so I simply moved them to a new location. The two moving boxes stared me down each time I entered the garage. I’ve got to get to those soon. I kept telling myself.

Yesterday, when the rain stopped my work in the flower gardens, I took the boxes from their garage shelf. These were mostly things, at least loosely related to my nursing career, some like my original bandage scissors, hemostat, the carpujet holder and mercury thermometer that came with my kit when I entered nursing school, were obvious keepers. Back in the day, drug reps gifted doctors and their staff with all kinds of things stamped with the company’s logo: binoculars, lanyard type pen holders shaped like an inhaler, coffee cups and, of course, pens. I also had a group of glass over-the-counter medication bottles from before everything went plastic. I easily placed the medication bottles in the display. The coffee cups will go into general use.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought as I congratulated myself on my progress. Then I spied the pens lurking in the box’s bottom. I have a thing for pens. During my nursing practice, I always carried these giveaways to loan to doctors who completed multiple years of medical school and remembered countless procedures, but could never remember to bring a pen while they were rounding in the facility. Often these pens walked away with the doctor, while my good pens stayed safe in my pocket. After all these years, I still have two medium-sized tins, emblazoned with a pharmacy logo, of course, full of pens. Some are pretty interesting, and I know they will hang out with the rest of the collection. I think the others will go into a box for my grandchildren to write with. Then maybe they’ll go out with the trash.

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