I have had in my custody for the better part of twenty-five years a silver lighter case set with three stones – two turquoise and one coral. I do not know where exactly it came from, how it was made, or what, if any, value it might actually have. It dates, I think, to some time in the 1970’s and has certainly seen better days. There are some dents along the bottom and there is wear from being repeatedly pushed and pulled from pockets during the decades prior to it coming to me. I do not own this object, but merely am its caretaker. It resides in its own designated space within my home and is treated to regular polishings. I use it to light candles of remembrance, as I think that it is important that utilitarian objects be used as they were intended, not simply left to collect dust.
Why does this matter and why am I talking about a battered vintage lighter case on this blog? Because as I polished the case this week, I realized that, without ever setting out to do so, I have developed a habit of collecting objects that were of value to people have passed away. These objects tend to be utilitarian, well used, and have little monetary value. I keep these things because they tell a part of the person’s story and thus preserve the memory of that person. Without actually ever being directed to do so, I know that it is my job to pass these objects on with the stories of those people who owned them to others who will cherish the stories and keep the memories of those people alive. It is a part of the work that She demands of me, this honoring of the dead and preserving the continuity of their memories.
As for that battered bit of silver, there is a story there, a history that needs to be preserved. It speaks a tale of my mentor’s family – a story of a father who abandoned his family, of a lighter case that he owned because it reminded him of a piece of jewelry that his mother had worn years before, of a son whose only link to that absent father was an object accidentally left behind, and of the grandson who grew into adulthood without knowledge of his father’s family. It is a story of loss and absence, but also of honoring and preserving links to those from which we came. The case will someday belong to the original owner’s great grandson, as will the story of his father’s family. In the meantime, I am the keeper of that object and the guardian of a family history that is not my own, an unwitting preserver of artifacts and stories.