Healthy Soul

Do you collect souvenirs?

I love collecting mementoes from the places I visit. Souvenirs, that is. There is a caveat though. They have to be easily transported back home, and, they should not become dust collectors. So I usually limit myself to select among three things: a ceramic tile with the name and/or an image of the place, refrigerator magnets, and/or something by a local artist. One day, while cleaning out a closet I counted about 50 ceramic souvenir tiles. I laughed: they were not collecting dust because they were surely creating clutter, albeit hidden in a closet.

Etched in my childhood memories are the wall hangings, snow globes, coasters, and other trinkets that my Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, and family friends brought back as souvenirs from their trips “abroad.” Growing up in Jamaica, an island that can be circled in a few days, traveling meant going out of the country. Of course, traveling out of the country then was never about going on vacation.

Frederick and Ruth Titus, my maternal grandparents, traveled from Jamaica seeking work on the Panama Canal. They met, got married, and had two children there before returning home to Jamaica.

Frederick and Ruth Titus, my maternal grandparents, traveled from Jamaica seeking work on the Panama Canal. They met, got married, and had two children there before returning home to Jamaica.

On my Mom’s side of the family my grandfather was a digger on the Panama Canal. He met my grandmother there as she worked as a housekeeper in the home of one of the engineers. My father’s only brother, Uncle Sydney journeyed to Union College, Lincoln, Nebraska in 1946 in pursuit of higher education. My father ventured into the fruit belt of upstate New York to work on a farm about the same time.  Going through his papers when he died (he was the family historian) I found a letter showing that he used his first pay check to buy a coat for Uncle Sydney.

My uncle, Sydney O. Beaumont, Ph.D., with three books he's written in retirement.

My uncle, Sydney O. Beaumont, Ph.D., with three books he's written in retirement.

Whenever someone came back home we’d stay up most of the night listening to stories, examining and playing with the souvenirs which were then displayed somewhere in the house – usually the living room. Dusting was my chore and these new souvenirs were simply adding to the list of items to be dusted as the house was cleaned. I decided then that when I traveled my souvenirs would have to be things I could use.

Souvenir tile from St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a beautiful trivet.

Souvenir tile from St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a beautiful trivet.

As I removed the protective bubble wrap from each tile the memories of that place flooded back. No one was seeing them, so the stories stayed locked away, not being shared. My plan was to use them as trivets and as tiles for the backsplash in my kitchen. I had left them in the closet while attempting to collect enough to create the backsplash. Forgotten they were.

A section of the soffit that now displays my ceramic souvenir tiles.

A section of the soffit that now displays my ceramic souvenir tiles.

Finally, the idea to display them along the soffit crystalized. Now when friends come over and a tile or group of tiles is noticed the stories are shared. Memories are released. My experience in that place gets integrated with their experiences, knowledge, and impressions. New understandings emerge. So at last my souvenirs are being useful.

Do you collect souvenirs? What happens to them when you get home?

 

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