When I was visiting Rhonda
in Amherst, MA, I noticed that the Chinese lantern I gave her for her birthday last month was strung up in the overhead light fixture of the room she was renting in a family’s house. In her jewelry box, she still had a pair of earrings I made her from over a year ago, silver with a blue hexagon shaped bead and another one, green, shaped like a leaf. Rhonda loves the color green like I love the color blue
. The jewelry box was a green version of the blue one she had bought for me. Both are wood and were bought at the free trade
gift shop where she once worked. She bought the green one for herself and the blue one for me, which I still have. Another time I was in a random drug store and picked up a pack of little plastic hair clips, light blue, royal blue and green. The light blue ones I gave to my friend Evonne the time I visited her in DC a few years back, along with a few of the blue jellie bracelets that matched them in color. We studied ourselves in the washroom mirror in a movie theatre and even in the mid 20’s, it was cool to be sharing something as trivial as pale blue, glittery jellie bracelets. Rhonda got the green hair clips and there they were, tangled up in some other jewelry.
It is a pleasantly odd thing to give something away and then visit the recipient years later to find that they still have it and that that person doesn’t have to be your mother every time. And I don’t mean given as a gift, but given because it suits the person, given because it should belong to them. The things I am usually given are things other people are glad to get rid of, like furniture or clothes when they move (as they do frequently in the Big Easy), and sometimes given because it seems that I need them, like dish towels and silverware and other things I never seem to have in stock. But again, those are all practical things, items we are all guilty of needing at some point. For me it’s always the small things I am given that I don’t need that stay in mind. I think that jewelry box was the only thing Rhonda ever bought me when there was no occasion for it; she was always uber thrifty and we were both always poor when we lived together. Since most people my age are not often blessed with surplus spending money, it really is the small things that count.
It has been a mutual decision on the part of my closest friends that gift giving is usually hard to accomplish, especially since most of my friends are married or with children and extended families they need to tend to, as is their right. Sometimes it’s only words I get. An email, or a letter, some random phone call, a memory we share in our communication with laughter and smiles or updates on how life is going now and where it will go, what our plans are. And those glorious and exquisitely rare visits where I find myself sitting in someone else’s living room, drinking in all the little things that have stacked up. When I attended her wedding in September this year, I discovered that Evonne still has the small and simple Art Deco glass ashtray I gave her and Rodney over five years ago, an ashtray I didn’t go out and buy especially for her but one from my own home, so that she would have one for me when I came to visit.
Just as I give little things, I take them from my experiences. From the last 13 days I have ticket stubs, a token from the T in Boston when I met masukomi, two cheap silver rings I bought at the college kiosk when I attended Rhonda’s classes at U Mass with her, a book I bought at L’Abri, half a dozen pairs of socks from the lost and found in L’Abri’s pantry that no one claimed, a tiny plastic spoon (like the kind you get to sample food) from the ice cream parlor the L’Abri students and I went to after seeing the play Translations, and some dried fall leaves. I was eager to get home and find places for all these things, either in scrapbooks, on my fingers, or in my nodes. Little things don’t take up much space at all.
In the movie The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis’ wife works at an antique shop and talks to a newly engaged couple about things that people own, how a part of them gets imprinted on those things after the person dies. In Throw Momma From the Train, Owen shows off his coin collection, which is nothing more than common change that his father had let him keep when they went out and did things together. To me, this is how things matter, how they count. Not everything you own has to have personal significance or be attached to a memory, but most of it should, if it’s really of any value. This is the origin of all history, of all meaning in human lineage, where everything must begin.