Opinion: Treasured trinkets

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Those of us who have occasion or obligation to travel with some regularity are confronted with the routine dilemma of what, if anything, to bring family, friends and colleagues to express that they have been remembered during the absence.

Airports and road-side convenience stores are filled with trinkets and talismans proclaiming that the bearer has some connection to the place in question. T-shirts and snow globes are transported from coast to coast and hemisphere to hemisphere bearing status and affection. As the years roll by, the collections build and shelves are filled with endless kitsch and ephemera. Someday, as the estate is invariably liquidated, the cherished decorative plate reminding of the long-ago visit to the Missouri State Capitol Building will be relegated to a position in a stack of orphaned memories in the corner of a dusty, small-town antique shop. The magic power of the objects, it seems, lies within the people who carry the memories and not the things themselves.

Many years ago, an autobiographical magazine essay shared the story of a now middle-aged writer who’d been the benefactor of his own traveling father’s largesse. In this case, the dashing dad would bring home miniature containers of shampoo from each hotel of his travels for his then-elementary school-aged son. The youngster found charm in their tiny size. As time passed, he lost interest, even found contempt for the “cheap” tokens. But years after his father’s passing, he still had scores of the diminutive plastic bottles. They came to represent something more. They connected him, across the miles and the years, to these simple, perhaps silly, gifts from papa.

Certainly, grand gesture and great expense could express affection. But can the smallest kindness, executed without fail, and offered with great and earnest sincerity, become that which we treasure most?

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