Today’s Writing 101 Challenge (actually from Friday, the kind people at WP gave us a couple of days of grace) – To write about something we treasure in a way that makes it clear to the reader why we have such strong attachments to it. Also, to aim for a longer piece than usual, to “go long” on this one (hence the extra time!)…
The Nature of Treasure
It has been difficult to identify something so important and valuable to me that I would rush back into a burning building to retrieve it. This is not because there are no such possessions, it is more a matter of trying to choose among a lot of potential candidates. I did not immediately think about the monetary value of what I have, rather I was drawn to the emotional significance of my possessions. Part of the reason for this may be because I do not have many things of high monetary value – perhaps only my car and house, the latter of which still technically belongs to the Building Society – but I think there is a deeper meaning, and reflecting on this led me to consider how my understanding of treasure has changed over the years. I’m sure this is true for most people.
Treasure as a child was to be found in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or buried in a wooden chest deep in the forest or on a desert island, where X marked the spot. Start digging!
But treasure also existed closer to home. I saved tokens from cereal packets to send off for a green Jack Brabham’s racing car, which seemed to take forever to arrive in the post. Oh the joy when it did finally arrive, a package just for me. It was also found in a piece of amber that had trapped a prehistoric insect. An old penny with an unusual date marking. Much later, a few locks of hair tied with a red ribbon from a girlfriend.
There is probably a gentle transition in our understanding of what treasure consists of, moving from the tangible but unobtainable (the buried gold), to what we already have (a toy racing car), to the intangibly valuable where our possessions have absorbed such huge amounts of emotional energy that they become the past rather than being mere motifs of what we think we remember.
In the face of our emotional mutism, treasures are able to articulate on our behalf. By identifying something as a treasure, we are giving our permission for the story to be told. This may be just to ourselves, as we think about, touch, or hold the treasure. Or it may be to others, because by revealing our treasures we reveal ourselves – through what we choose as treasures, through what we choose to reveal to others as treasures, and through the stories trapped within them.
Treasures not Chosen
The many books that carry a lot of memories, the letters and cards from friends and family over the years, a beautiful paperweight that was a graduation present from my parents, the brass desk clock I received for my 21st birthday, the countless drawings from my children over the years. These are the tangible treasures. The memories of treasured times and relationships. These are the intangible treasures.
The Chosen Treasures
This is the story of three rings.
My first is a ring of Welsh white gold with an ornate pattern. It was the wedding ring of my Aunty Betty. She married late in life and occupied an important part of my childhood and adolescent years. She gave me my first taste of travelling abroad and tried to educate me in the niceties of polite society. For example, how one should break open a bread roll rather than cut it at the dinner table. Through her, I found my first holiday job helping out in a local village grocery store. It wasn’t quite “Arkwright’s” from “Open All Hours” with Ronnie Barker and the genius who is David Jason, but it was owned by a Mr Cartwright!
My aunty was the manager of another store he owned in Piltdown. I worked there for a while too, falling hopelessly in love with a young woman shop assistant in the way only a 14 year old boy could. Piltdown is famous as the site of Piltdown Man – human remains that were thought to be the “missing link” until it was found to be a hoax.
Aunty Betty lived with my grandparents in a small house in Five ash Down in Sussex, the kind of house a child would draw. This was where I spent many holidays, and my grandparents were also very important to me. So while the ring is a beautiful link to her and those memories, she herself has become a motif for all that was special about those holidays. Oh, and she also introduced me to pots of fruit yogurt. Hey, this was the 1960s! I loved these little treats she brought home from work.
My second is a ring of yellow gold engraved with my name and that of my first wife. It symbolizes so much. A life shared, hopes, promises, joint struggles and three wonderful children. It has the memories of the special day when we shared our vows in front of family and friends. I remember searching for it in the jewellery shops of Hull.
We were both students at the University of Hull and we met at a psychology party. She went because one of her house mates was in the psychology department. I was in two minds about going. I had had a hard day and was just returning from an evening club I helped at for children with learning disabilities. I thought of a quick drink in the union bar and an early night. We became engrossed in conversation as the baked potatoes were being taken out of the oven.
Two images out of an endless gallery:
Me turning up drunk on her doorstep, soaking wet from the rain and with a can of lager in my hand. Her tying a miniature bottle of whiskey to my bicycle saddle with a poem she wrote as a gift before she left for home for the Christmas holidays.
Ultimately, the ring has come to stand for the breakdown of our marriage. This is a pain known to many, but it does not take away all that was special. It reminds us of the different paths our lives can take, of the human condition. And of healing.
My third is a ring of white gold and is still on my finger. As such, it is part of the present. The story is the story of the Black Sea, so named because of the unpredictability of its moods. It is a labile sea. We met in a seaside town and I knew from the start that my life would change. Ours is a love that lives on a knife-edge. It is not a secure, put your feet up and everything will be fine kind of love. It is a seasonal love. The hot days of summer become the cool evenings of autumn become the cold nights of winter and then the gently warming days of spring. But all in a day, turning on a misunderstood gesture or misheard word. It is emotional surfing. With wipe-outs.
End of the Rainbow
So, these are my three treasures. Rings that are interlinked with each other to some extent and certainly with my life. They represent my formative years, a very significant part of my adult life, and the present and unknown future. I have bequeathed them to each of my children, who in the end are the true treasures.
I have really enjoyed the Writing 101 challenge and would like to thank everyone at WP who has supported us with this. I have made new WP friends with new followers and new people who I in turn am now following. I hope we all continue to grow together.