The memory collector


My small self

When I was small, I collected things I found: shiny objects, buttons, leaves, and feathers, especially feathers. I often dreamt I could fly and feathers seemed like a promise of that dream. Finding something of beauty felt like an accomplishment. My reward for paying attention. Somewhere on the road to adolescence, I lost every one of those treasures.


In my teens, I kept a drawer filled with notes, jewelry, stray buttons, foreign coins passed on from relatives, ticket stubs, a lock with a forgotten combination, and pictures of my friends and the boy I loved my freshman and sophomore year. One scrap of paper I saved until I was in my mid-twenties. The library in my high school sent out notes to students who had delinquent books. The notes were short and to the point; they had the student’s name on one line and the name of the book on another line, nothing else. I don’t remember if I was assigned to read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or if I chose it on my own, but I loved it and wanted to read more of his work. I kept that second book too long because one day in class the teacher handed me a note from the library. All that was written on it was my name and below that, The Idiot. I kept the note for years, my private joke with the universe.



I think objects might want to be found. Maybe a button works for months to untie the strings that bind it to a shirt, and when it leaps out into the unknown, it is looking for adventure. I want to see more of the world, it says; I’ve been manhandled enough, put in my place for too long. Imagine the pleasure it feels when a child or an adult picks it up, admires it, and carries it home as a treasure. At least, that’s how I would feel if I were a button.


My crown

I still have a box of small findings and remembrances, including a gold crown that was fitted for one of my molars but never put on. I could tell a great story about that, but unfortunately, I don’t remember much about it. My mother wore it on her charm bracelet for years and it has come back to me. Last summer I bought a wooden art box for my grandchild and filled it with some of the things I cannot throw away.


Over the years I have tried collecting things of value, but I can’t sustain my interest. In Japan, I started a collection of the holders used to rest chopsticks on, called “hashioki,” but I grew tired trying to find a place to display them and gave most of them away. I use two of them for brush rests when I do Japanese calligraphy.


For a long time, I collected dreams, and for safekeeping, I put them in my heart. When I was alone, I would take them out, whisper promises I thought I could keep, believing that some day every one of them would grow wings and fly. I never thought I could lose them, but I did. And now I know why: my heart is a pocket full of holes.


When mother knew love



Memories are the only thing I am interested in collecting now. These stories, like the flightless feathers I loved as child, or like the fallen petals that when crushed still give off the faint aroma of the rose, or like the empty shell left by a cicada who grew away from her old self but left a part behind for me to hold and remember, these stories are the only treasures I have.

70 thoughts on “The memory collector

  1. And they are great treasures. Thanks for sharing some of them with us! I too collect stray bits I find here and there, but it is the memory they represent that is the true treasure.

    • I almost want to put treasures in quotation marks, because of course, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash. For me, I’ve come full circle, collecting what is significant to me, but may have little or no meaning for anyone else.

  2. Your post struck a cord with me! I too save memories – some very distinct, some slightly faded. l also have my stashes – a few things that trigger memories – some interesting and unique buttons, ticket stubs from every live show, opera, stage play I’ve ever attended. And a few journals. The things a save make me smile. And remember. Thanks for your great story!

    • I’m glad you liked the story. It’s great that you have saved some of the things that were meaningful to you, especially the journals. I have some of mine, too, but along the way some were lost.

  3. It’s a beautiful post. I’ve found that my memories are so fleeting — because the substance, the heart of a relationship is in the little insignificant things that seem forgettable when they happen, and yet those are the things I long for most..

    • Thank you, Elyse. Writing seems to be a way of remembering, at least for me. And of course, for things from my childhood, I still have two living siblings. When I can’t remember something about my mom, I “google” my sister. : )

  4. I keep commenting “lovely.” I mean it every time.
    Of course you never saw my grandmother’s “shed.” I won’t go into that now….too sad in this context….

  5. I like the thoughts you have about buttons. I have a button jar with buttons that were my gramma’s and my mother’s. And now I add my buttons to it.

    When I was a child every woman had a button jar but these days I think I am the only one.

    • The picture of the buttons on the post are from my collection. My children loved going through them and I hope the grandchild does too. They are fun to count, sort by color, size, and shape, and just admire. I like your way of saving them in a jar; I have mine in cloth bag that once pretended to be a purse.

  6. this had me reminiscing about a time when I was a collector of things … in fact, it might even prompt a blog post about collecting (at some later date). I really enjoy your style of writing, and how you flow so smoothly from one place to the next, invariably leading us to a special and particularly pleasing snippet such as “my heart is a pocket full of holes.” beautiful

    p.s. I have no idea why my gravatar shows up as a blue square, and not my usual picture of an orange and yellow tiger lily … I’ve been trying to figure it out, but can’t seem to break the secret code … haven’t given up on it yet, but it isn’t the highest thing on my list

  7. I look forward to hearing your story of collecting things.

    I hope you get your gravatar picture problem solved soon. So many things to learn about WordPress. I keep telling myself I will spend some time sprucing things up on my blog, but I never do. 🙂

  8. I do so look forward to your posts. I collect stuff like my daughters bday cards to me little notes they write and created a scrapbook to make me smile on the days when a really need a pick me up. Another great post.

  9. Powerful writing, indeed. Your take on a heart that is a pocketful of holes with a quiet dignity that’s endearing. Thank god for the holes. How else are the dreams going to be able to get out and stretch their wings in flight…well done.

  10. Seeing your collection of buttons brought memories gushing back of my Mum’s old tin filled to the brim with a mix and match of buttons that I used to play with as a child. I now have my own button collection (although I no longer play with buttons), still I like knowing I have a selection of different buttons. What a lovely idea to fill a wooden art box with a collection of things you cannot bear to throw away for your grandchild.

  11. “For a long time, I collected dreams, and for safekeeping, I put them in my heart. When I was alone, I would take them out, whisper promises I thought I could keep, believing that some day every one of them would grow wings and fly. I never thought I could lose them, but I did. And now I know why: my heart is a pocket full of holes.”

    This is beautifully written, but it makes me feel sad. I guess my question is why?

  12. riatarded

    We don’t remember things and days but rather the moments. Amazing post!

    And with this my friend I have read all the posts that I had missed out on:) YES! 😀

  13. Really lovely lovely writing, and vivid imagery. I love your button story. I have treasured my grandmother’s button box,full to the brim with buttons collected over three lifetimes. Now whenever I take it out to look for a special button, it will feel like I am performing a community service. Glad to have discovered you!

  14. One of the saddest days of my life was when I discovered my mom had thrown my rock collection away one summer when I was a kid. She was a neat freak and would go on rampages and get rid of my random treasures and collections. To this day, I miss that rock collection. I made sure I never did that to my own children.

    • I remember when I was on the other end of the equation, and was traveling abroad with my two oldest daughters who were children at the time. One of them started such a rock collection, and to my horror, these were very big rocks, and at a certain point, I started worrying about the extra weight on our vehicle. We had a family conference, and somehow, I persuaded her to stop… but the memory still hurts…

  15. Ashley Wright

    I’m going to have problems going to bed on time if I keep reading your blog… I love the last photo on this post. I adore old photos…especially of people in love. I’m working on restoring some photos of my great-grandparents (my Nana and Pampa).

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful writing.

  16. I have a terrible time letting go of my old treasures, in part because I can imagine that button with feelings, too. I always kind of felt as though the objects held the same memories that I did, as though they were a kind of living thing instead of an inanimate object. Tossing them out or giving them away was saying that the object, and those memories, no longer mattered to me. And that hurt my heart.

    I held on to so many things for so very long – I didn’t start purging my stores until I was into my late 30’s – some things I’d held onto since grade school. Now I take pictures of objects that I don’t want to part with. It makes it easier to know that I do have a link to the memory, a way to unlock that memory when my brain puts it away somewhere safe. Then I can let that item go. It’s still hard, but it’s either that or a guaranteed spot on “Hoarders”.

  17. millodello

    I like clinging to my memories but I can stop whenever I wish, just like it used to be with smoking until I stopped. I can get new ones tomorrow but the ones I have now will do quite nicely for some time. If I inhale deeply when I remember the feelings are reinforced. I saw this post title when I visited to read the fresh press post. This became the one that I wanted to read more. I went back in your archives to August and read almost all of them upto the present to get a feel for your blog before I read this one today. The feeling is good. I appreciate your’re not hiding the grounds from the bottom of the cup.

    • I appreciate your comments. Since I’ve gotten older, I have felt it was important to write down some stories from the past for my children and grandchildren.

      I like your image of the grounds in the bottom of the cup. They are part of what made the coffee so delicious.

      Thanks so much for reading.

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