Saturday, June 13, 2009


Over the years, I have lived in countless apartments and homes in four different states-- Ohio, New Jersey, New York and California.  With each move, packing was fairly simple.  The big stuff got loaded into the boxes then put on a truck; the important stuff, my mementos, were always hand-carried by me.  It's been that way since the first time I packed my belongings when I was in the 6th grade.

That's when my family moved from the "country", surrounded by cows and cornfields, to the "big city". The "city" was defined as a place with sidewalks, but it was really more like a small town of about 10,000 people.  My mother did the bulk of the packing but I clearly remember hand carrying my prized possessions.  

As a young girl, my mementos were kept in a cigar box. When I opened the lid, a faint tobacco smell greeted me, along with letters from my great grandmother, a few programs from dance recitals, report cards (only the good ones) and photographs of friends and family.

I lived with my family in our old rambling house until I was 18 years old; then I got my first apartment, a whopping six blocks away.  How's that for independence-- Far enough to be "away" but close enough for Mom and Dad to drive by every day, and for me to "be in the neighborhood" for dinner at my folk's a few times a week. 

By this timethe cigar box was replaced with a larger shoe box and included notes from high school boyfriends, my diary, a small carved bear from a trip to Yosemite National Park when I was 13, and the Christmas decoration my parents gave me each year since I was born.  In my family, when you leave home, you have to take your "stuff" with you and that included Christmas decorations to decorate your own tree with.

When I was 20, I moved with a loser boyfriend to New Jersey, then promptly got smart, and dumped him.  With this move, my mementos box grew into a larger cardboard box, but one still small enough for me to hand carry.  

It was made clear to my loser boyfriend that the stuff in the box was off limits to him and I was not going to include or carry his mementos in my box. That really bugged him, so of course, when I ditched him, he took all of my Christmas decorations thinking I'd be back (to him) for them. He was wrong.  He's the kind of guy who's probably still hanging my baby ornaments on his tree today. Like I said-- Loser.

Newly single, I lived blissfully in New York for several years, first with a wonderful aunt and uncle who "took me in" during my time of need, and then in a tiny studio apartment that I absolutely adored.  

When you live in a small space you only have the things you really want and cherish. Plus your furniture is multi-purpose, like my hide-away sofa that I pulled out into my bed every night for years.  I loved New York and my mementos and memories grew. 

Sadly, when I was 26, my publishing job transferred me to San Francisco-- you know the one 3,000 miles away from all my family, friends and New York City.  I was depressed but it was a great career opportunity.  I packed up my tiny apartment and put everything on a truck that schlepped it cross-county to my new apartment on the Bay.  

Of course, I carried my mementos, now in a wicker suitcase, on the airplane and cried the entire flight.  I had started a new collection of ornaments, added more photos, letters, a program from a Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA concert, a couple of love notes and several important family heirlooms that had been passed down to me.  I can't remember how many times, living in San Francisco, I went through my wicker suitcase.  It was a lonely place for me and I found great comfort sorting through my treasures.

Fortunately, 2 years later, Los Angeles called with a better job offer and away I went with the promise that I'd be transferred back to my beloved NYC in three years.  I met my husband four months after I arrived and, as they say, the rest is history.  I never moved back to New York but I did live in two different apartments before we married.

Although the wicker suitcase was now very full, it sat on the front seat of my car as I made the drive south to Los Angeles.  The afternoon I waited for the moving van to arrive with my furniture from San Francisco, I decided to work at "liking Los Angeles". 

I unpacked some of the momentous-- something I had not done in San Francisco, and lined my fireplace mantel, and the nook in the hallway and kitchen.  My treasures had grown to include a tiny hand painted watercolor of the Empire State Building, a small porcelain kitten from my father, pearls from my grandfather, many letters and cards from my family, and a lovely small jewelry box with an antique pocket watch from a dear friend who had since passed away. 

Six months later I moved into my second apartment in Los Angeles which was much bigger and I was finally, for the first time in years, able to spread out. But in this apartment, I soon realized the mementos were all placed in my bedroom, not around the apartment.  Since I traveled so much, I wanted to keep these important parts of my history in eyesight.  Some mementos found a place on a bookcase others remained tucked away for safe keeping.  The suitcase was replaced with a basket with a lid that I kept on the bottom shelf of my nightstand.

I lived in this apartment for nearly five years until.... I was robbed.  

My heart sank.  Immediately, I knew my most cherished mementos were gone. Although the basket was still under the nightstand, everything else in plain sight was taken-- The pearls, pocket watch, painting, porcelain kitten, everything.  I think I cried for a week--  Then I moved to a security building with bars on the windows.  Ahh, life in Los Angeles.

By the time I moved into my husband's home, just before our wedding, my memento collection, despite the robbery, had grown.  I'd done a considerable amount of traveling to Europe and across the US and gathered bits and pieces of treasures along the way.  And I saved many things from my courtship with my now husband-- ticket stubs, cards from delivered flowers, silly notes and the likes.  I tend to cherish smaller things, knowing I travel WITH my mementos, but my basket now required two hands to carry and a little muscle as well.

It took me a long while to unpack in my husband's home. Adjusting to married life and "a room mate" so to speak was foreign to me at first.  Settling into a new home and dividing up "space" was a challenge too.  My husband is "Mr. Clean" with no "stuff" anywhere.  Suddenly staking claim for mementos was an interesting dance between us.

Nevertheless, after nearly 16 years of marriage, many of my most cherished mementos are close at hand and in eye-sight (thank heaven for an alarm system).  Once I started pulling items out of the basket and putting them around the house--although I admit, most are still in our bedroom-- I felt much more at home, both in the house I now shared with my husband and in Los Angeles in general.  I'm still thousands of miles away from friends and family but the bits and pieces of them I have near me help bring them closer.

My basket has grown to a small hamper that I keep in my office.  I sort through the papers, notes, cards, and keepsakes, usually monthly, and I continue to add new things all the time.

My 12-year-old godson has also sorted through my mementos a number of times over the years.  It was much more interesting to him when he was younger but he still enjoys going through it and pointing out the memories we've created together.  I laugh now when he passes me a movie ticket stub or a napkin from the Disney Restaurant in Hollywood to "add to the pile of stuff" as he calls it.  He knows we're creating memories that I will cherish forever.

Do you collect mementos?

Welcome to The Fifty Factor  -  Joanna


  1. Ummm.. yes I do!
    Some are small and old.. and very dear to me.
    Some are very large and heavy.. and still very dear to me!

    My younger brother made me a huge metal letterbox out of parts from a Bulldozer my Dad owned at the time... and it weighs a TONNE... but I love it just as much as the smallest wee momento cos he made if for me just before he was killed.

    I see my letterbox every day and think of him.

    Momentos are IMPORTANT... and so very special.

    I too have moved many many times(37 times since I left home!).. and sometimes I have a big clean out... and some monentos go ... but the most precious ones always stay.

    The moving men HATE my letterbox! It is THAT heavy.

  2. Yes, I think most people keep mementos, although the majority of mine are in a lockup because, some time ago when moving abroad, I passed anything potentially worthwhile to the kids and the few things I couldn't bear to part with went into the store along with more "necessary" items - papers and so on.

    There are though a few things that I just "had" to have with me. These were not so much mementos because I keep memories inside me, not in objects, but just the things I had that I absolutely adore - the odd figurine, some (to me) special pieces of glass that I just love and stuff like that.

    Everything else is on the laptop! That's progress, I guess :)

  3. Yes - I have some of those kinds of things too. Most are not valuable, but are things that were given to me by my husband, kids, parents... It's the memories that are valuable!

  4. I'm very glad that I made the "venture" to your blog this morning. I've been kind of avoiding blogs since my notebook is in the shop and I'm relying on my older computer (which is my lifeline to our reservation system and I cannot afford to crash this one). Anyway, while I do not collect memories this way, I truly enjoyed your story. I could picture your apartments and how your collection grew over the years. I could also feel your pain of the robbery because my daughter (who was about 7 at the time) and I were robbed during the day while she was at school and I was at work...she came home just about the same time the robbers had left. We lived in the country...small town, not to far from the Langely Covered Bridge in St. Joe. Co. Michigan. What they took that I would never be able to replace was an opal ring that had been my Great Grandmothers (whom I had never met), then was handed down to her daughter (my grandma) and then Grandma Matie handed it down to me. Our birthdays were all in October.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Now that was a wonderful post. When my house nearly burnt down in bushfires some years ago (something Claifornia is well used to too) I had to make the decision as to which things I would take. I made ridiculous decisions at the time which I like to think was as a result of stress and not stupidity.

    Then when I moved overseas I put a lot of thought into it and decided to take only a few things that were truly meaningful. Strangely if you looked a them you would scratch your head and go why? I think my most cherished possession is a wooden long stool made by my great, great, grandfather. My father did it up for me and I have happy memories of it in my grandparent's farmhouse. I also have framed Royal Shakespeare Company prints which mean a great deal to me too (too long to go into), dolls from my childhood, photos and letters and jewellery etc that have a meaning to me. I still carry in my wallet little poems and drawings my daughter made for me 18 years ago. I never save anything just to store it away (unless its paper/documents).

    However, I am also someone who likes a lot of clean space around me so I move things around a lot rather than have them out all at the one time. I like to keep the great (as opposed the horrible)ghosts of the past around me to remind me where I have been.

    My daughter is not a collector of things as material possessions do not mean a great deal to her but I noticed on my last visit she still has a large wicker box that she has all her boyfriends letters and cards etc in(she has had a lot of boyfriends since 11, lol). It's important for us as reminders of people, places and feelings.

    Great post.

  6. I opened a packed away box, as well. It was from my mother's house, after she passed away. I found mementos - and MENTO's - the fresh flavor maker! They had somehow ended up in the same box.
    At least this time I wasn't tempted to eat the 3 or 4 year old candy!
    Great post, again.

  7. I don´t collect mementos. Except pictures. I love old pic´s but this is just recently that I have come to collect these. One thing I do have from way back when, is the love letters me and hubby wrote to each other, 30 years ago!
    I´m just a person who likes to change her "space" around once in a while and I don´t really "need" familiar items to make me feel at home. Home is where the heart is....

  8. What a fantastic post, I love this one so much! I am a very nostalgic person (even for time periods I was a part of, lol) so I love collecting little mementos and what nots. I scrapbook so a lot of them end up there. I also love to create shadow boxes so some of them end up there as well. I loved hearing this story, thanks for sharing!

  9. I keep work mementos. Every time someone close to me retires I ask for a little something from their desk to remember them.

    I have some clear plastic pyramids/cubes, an excellent chair to sit on, and small teacher treasures.

  10. Joanna, you're the sentimental sort, as are a lot of us. Could robbery be viewed as a form of forced de-cluttering?

    Last year, as a part of cleaning out my basement, I tossed boxes of cards, letters, postcards but not before I had sorted through every single one. I had kept every one I had EVER received in my adult life, including Christmas cards. I still have a box of special ones left.

    Otherwise, I generally like to live in a clutter free environment.

  11. I have an old musty box of momentos tucked away - but I'm not sure if it's still a my Mom's house. I haven't thought about it in years...until now, of course.

    Enjoyed this post.

  12. I do, but not very many. My husband has a handmade box he keeps his treasures in. I keep mine in a drawer. I love the image of carrying them in a wicker basket. I have an old picnic hamper that would be perfect. Maybe a transfer is in order. I collect rocks as mementoes. I have one from a parking lot in Manhattan, a chunk of uranium ore from my grandfather's ranch, and green gypsum from the Palo Dura canyon, and lots other. They all live in a big glass jar in the living room. I'd be more pissed if someone stole them than I would if they took the TV.

  13. I'm not really sentimental, so I don't collect things.

    You have lived in some awesome places!

  14. Joanna,
    I'm more of a neat, clean, no clutter person. I have very few mementoes and don't collect much except books. I'm not much attached to sentimental stuff, but maybe I am and just don't realize it, and call it decorations...

  15. Great post! I collect books (they are my mementos) and family pictures. I pick up a book and think about when I bought the book, and what was going on in my life when I acquired the book.

  16. I do have collectibles, the majority of which are worth very little to anyone but me.

    I love how the little things -- including songs and scents, take us back to where we once were...


  17. When I look around I know I am a collector. For years I have collected the little spoons from all the places I have been. I have racks and racks lined in my hallway walls. When my mom died I found a bunch of spoons that had been my grandmothers so I added those. I have a ton of pictures which I have GOT to put in albums soon and mark as if something happens to me my family won't know who some of them are. Some years back I did an extensive family tree search and came up with family I never knew I had (cousins), photos, newspaper articles and tons of paper backup. I did a computer tree but like I said copied tons of stuff in case of whatever. Oh gads too much to mention. I loved your post!!

  18. Both my daughters collect money. Usually my money...

    Great read!

  19. Such sweet reminiscing. You're a truly great chick! The only time I worried about you was crying on the plane during your move from NYC to San Francisco. Glad you recovered.

    And have I told you lately how HONORED I am that you're following my blog. Man!

    :::swelled head:::

    Thank you!

  20. Hi everyone, Happy Saturday. Thanks for taking time out of your weekend to stop by.

    It sounds like we agree our most cherished mementos are not necessarily expensive, but they are oh so valuable to our hearts.

    Today i added a new memento to my collection-- The graduation program from my husband's grand daughter's high school graduation. The program, with her name highlighted as a member of the Cum Laude Society, (Yes, i'm bragging :-) will be added to my collection.

    I took a lot of pictures today and make a point of always printing my digital photos so I can actually look at them anytime-- not just on my computer. I think I'm old fashioned that way. And I know a few of them will be added to my hamper of keepsakes.

    Thanks again for stopping by. Keep those cards and letters coming! I love to hear from you.

  21. I've collected many mementos over the years, but I've also moved so many times, that many of them are gone forever -- somehow. My pictures are my most treasured possessions. If I lose those, I'll be devastated.

  22. I collect everything! Every bone in my body is a sentimental one. I can't even begin to tell you how much stuff I've collected over the years. I think my concert ticket stubs are my coolest collection of "stuff." I did a post about them this year and features that post too. It's quite an honor since I was a kid when I went to all of those shows for adults.

    Great post, Joanna! I'm sorry you were robbed. I'd still be crying if that happened to me.


  23. Joanna, that was lovely and sad and then happy. I don't know what else to say to you, except thank you for sharing. xo

  24. What a life you have had. I have a box. It is loaded with little things. I wish I would have been better about doing what you did though. You seem very good.

    Have a great Sunday.

  25. Such a beautiful post as always!You're a great writer.

    Yes, I love mementos. I come from a large Irish Catholic Mom is the youngest of nine, I have 23 first cousins on her side alone!So, you can imagine the "stuff." In fact I was just given a memento on my recent trip Aunt gave me a "Ted Lewy" print of the SF cable cars. (I don't think it is an original but it is from one of my great aunts trips to SF in the 1940's)I can't wait to have it framed and hung. I try to display my mementos: )

  26. Hiya from SITS! What a wonderful story, and an introduction to your blog (for me, anyhow)... Love the way your mementos grew! What a great legacy for your kids and grandkids next time!

  27. What a lovely post Joanna.
    I have a small cardboard box since my teenage years where I keep my letters, postcards, poems and quotes.
    I haven't looked through it for years but after reading this post I am going to treat myself and get a glass of red wine and settle down in front of the heater (it is cold here in Australia)and take a trip down memory lane.

  28. Lots of posts about memory lane today. I don't have a box or anything like that i keep these items in, but i too keep them all over my flat to remind me of happy times. The wooden tuktyk from SriLanka, or the pottery dish we totally overpaid for from our honeymoon in Thailand. :) i too like seeing my memories wherever i look. :)

  29. What a fabulous story!

    Late last week I drove a couple of hours up to see my mom to bring her some sweet peas to transplant into her garden.

    Since my step-dad died a few years ago, she had talked several times about getting rid of some of his collections---he had several extensive ones and would never throw anything away.

    He left a collection of old 78 records---nearly 700 of them. She considered giving them away, but I convinced her to let me look through them. Some of them might be valuable, and her finances have been strained as of late because of the economy and various kids and grandkids hitting her up for some fundage.

    I've spent the last couple of days sorting and cataloguing them---most are in pristine condition.

    Talked with her on the phone yesterday and just felt overwhelmed by her tears. In the 24 years that they were married (they married late in life, he was almost 80 when he died), they hauled all those boxes around through 5 moves, and NEVER ONCE did they open them, listen or get any enjoyment out of them.

    She thought it was such a waste. I do too. :-(

  30. Yes, I'm a big traveler, so I alwasy buy something very small to remind me of each trip -- then (and here is the best part) I squirrl them away in a very old tool box that's been passed down through the family for generations. BTW -- I create odd/beasutiful concotions in my kitchen -- and you've got me thinking J-E-L-L-O...lover your blog...

  31. As a Cancer, I have a tendency to look backward much more frequently than forward; it's a problem that I am attempting through a great deal of internal work, to balance.

    That said, mementos mean a great deal to me. But, that's compounded in that my friends and family have always given me 'stuff', treasures that they thought I would really like.

    I've gone through several different sorts of collections in my life...most I've given away. One collection that grows, is my collection of Scottie Dog stuff from the 30's & 40's.

    I have a wooden box that contains ephemera like paper.

    I'm lately in the mood to begin finding homes to pass along much of the momentos that proliverate in my space. Time to think that less is more.

    Snarky Sister...this post spoke to me on so many levels. So very many levels. And, with each one like this, it's an honor to know you, more.

  32. I wish I'd kept more momentos. Living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, for practical reasons I have thrown more than I've kept. My favourite momento is a vintage container that mum used to keep her jewellery, and now that she is no longer here, means a lot. I've had my dining table & chair set since my boys were young, almost 20 years now, it also reminds me of mum, as her own dining table was the place I remember her most, sitting and reading, in between those dreaded chores.
    How terrible to have had some of your own treasures stolen. Things that could never mean so much to anyone else.

  33. What a wonderful story, I always enjoy reading what you post. I gave you an award on my blog. Pass it on if you want too but don't feel obligated. Love your blog!

  34. Memories and the guarding of them...I too keep all my precious bits in boxes. A wonderful post Joanna, xv.

  35. I got a bit misty-eyed reading about your break-in. I hate that you lost things that probably only had value to you.
    For the most part, any available surface in our house is a catch-all for our momentos.
    However, I do have one small box that a corsage came in... from my first boyfriend when we went to my jr. prom. The box has little momentos from some of our dates... including a salt-shaker from Mastersons restaurant.
    I've only taken the box out and looked at the items once in the past 15 years, yet can't bring myself to get rid of them.

  36. Wow! Beautifully written! I wish I kept as much of my notes and things. My BFF kept a lot of our notes from middle school and I cherish those. I love pictures of course, and occasionally will sore a plane ticket in my journal to save.

    I'd love to have them for my kids to see.

    You have an AMAZING life story! I'm so jealous of your success!

  37. I do collect them. And over time, the box has grown.

  38. Now I begin to understand the meaning of being a blogger and of searching and finding fellow bloggers that could be so so interesting. (Before, blog sounded like a dirty word since plenty of bloggers were being dragged to jail, here in my beloved country).

    Oh how I kept love momentos, every little piece of it.

    Thank you Joanna, I'm loving your blog. It makes me smile.

  39. What a wonderful, touching story. I am so sorry you were robbed and lost some irreplaceable items from part of your life. How wonderful that you are passing this importance on to another generation.


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