“My most cherished possessions are my grandma’s letters and my vintage Martha Washington cookbook.”
I have always wondered what Evie and I would try to take with us if we were awakened in the middle of the night and our house was on fire. Of course, we would always want to know our family was safe, but after that, what would we reach for to make sure it got out with us?
Another way to ask that question would be, “Next to people, what are my most cherished possessions?”
USA TODAY (Feb. 7, 2014) profiled the main actors in the movie “The Monuments Men,” the true story of art experts tasked with retrieving some of the world’s most treasured works stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. These stars were asked what personal item they might go behind enemy lines to rescue.
Bill Murray said, “I have this old cover of the Chicago Tribune magazine, this touching drawing of an old man and kid talking about how you can almost see Indians who lived there before they were burned out. I’ve had it since I was a kid.”
According to Cate Blanchett, “My middle son stopped breathing when he was a couple of days old and was hospitalized for a number of days. My oldest son finger-painted something for him. It’s not a remarkable picture, but it was such a beautiful gesture just to make his brother happy. We have it framed.”
I learned something special about George Clooney, who said, “I have a binder of handwritten letters over the years. I had a great letter-writing relationship with Paul Newman and Walter Cronkite. I still love to write letters by hand. I pull that binder out all the time just to read it.”
For John Goodman, “Twenty years ago, I would have said my Stan Musial baseball or Mickey Mantle hat. Now I put all my value in people. I guess I’m getting old.”
Matt Damon understands those kinds of values and said, “Now that I’m a dad I agree with John – I can’t imagine anything without family. But I do have a pretty cool signed jersey by [former baseball player] Pedro Martinez.”
Finally, Bob Balaban said, “Working on [1988’s] ‘Close Encounters,’ I worked with Francois Truffaut, and he wrote the most beautiful letter on onion paper to my daughter on the day of her birth, welcoming her into this world. I swear, one day we’ll give it to her.”
I know of few people who would disagree with George H.W. Bush when he said, “We are not the sum of our possessions.” But there are some of our things that have special meaning to us even though they don’t mean much to anyone else.
As I was preparing this article I asked Evie what she considered a valuable possession which she would want to save in case of a fire. Almost immediately she spoke of our family pictures. Taken in a world before digital photography, those old and wrinkled black and white photos still have deep meaning. We can take hours (literally) looking at them, reminiscing of a time that is no longer and made up of people we will never forget.
Most of the spaces in which we all live can become museum-like repositories of cherished mementoes which we have collected over the years. From my grandmother’s thimble which she used to make quilts (we still have the crib quilt she made for me) to my father’s Bible in which he underlined his favorite texts, these treasures help us feel closer to loved ones who changed our lives forever.
Just like the stars of “The Monuments Men,” the things which matter most to Evie and me matter most because they connect us to people who matter. We collect these things because we like them but, more often than not, we treasure these things because they remind us of people.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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