Even as children, we are collectors: of pretty things, of tender hearts, of secret hopes and dreams.
When I was a young girl, my grandmother and I sometimes wandered around the empty elementary school playground across the street from her house on a summer’s afternoon, hand-in-hand. Heads down, we sought bits of smooth sea glass tossed among the rougher gray rocks used as ground cover. Once spotted, I’d deposit the pretty pebbles one by colorful one into the washed baby food jar which she’d brought along to protect and keep them.
On the way back to the house, I’d hold the jar up to catch the fading afternoon sun, wanting to capture and keep it, and our time together, too. Later, I graduated to collecting chunky agates from the shore of Lake Superior, stones the color of iron-rich blood and shot through with black and blue veins so that, when polished, they looked like nothing so much as slick hunks of liver. They remind me of the town in which I was born.
Why do we collect, and what is it that we find worthy of gathering and saving?
Sometimes we collect items that are very costly – pieces of jewelry, or art. Mostly, I think, we collect tokens, physical representations of personal connection and emotional resonance. Our tokens are our treasures and remind us of someone or something we love, of wishes, of memories we don’t want to lose. When my daughter grew up and moved out, she took one of my empty perfume bottles with her so that, when she was lonely, she could hold it to her nose, close her eyes, and remember home. You’ll find something very like that in Lady of a Thousand Treasures.
Not only do my collections end up in my books, like many of you, I also collect the books themselves. Perhaps collect isn’t the right word – hoard, stockpile, showcase, defend, and about which I become territorial might be better descriptions. The books I collect remind me of the years when I read them, after lights out in a blanket-tent in bed with a flashlight, sneaking in extra reading hours, or as a young adult escaping angst, or a grown woman stealing an hour of pleasure.
The first royalty check I earned on my own published works was spent at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. I purchased hardback, dust-covered copies of the first edition of the Little House on the Prairie books which had been illustrated by Gareth Williams. I placed them in a glass-protected barrister’s bookcase, right next to my childhood paperback copies—edges yellowed and thin, frayed like old parchment, inside flaps claimed by a scrawled, “Sandie’s.” They remind me still of all I love in books, and why I have given my life to writing them. When I met my husband and he told me he’d saved the Sugar Creek Gang and Louis L’Amour books from his childhood, I knew we had a future together.
As a child, I would pick up a penny when I saw one lying on the ground and then I’d save it; that habit followed me into adulthood. As a child, I hoped it would bring me luck. As an adult, I took comfort in the reminder, embossed right into the metal, that “In God We Trust.” Happy to reach for a dropped penny at any time, they were especially welcome when I was fearful, anxious, or down. “In God I trust,” I whispered to myself as I tucked it into a pocket or purse. I think that’s one reason that – aside from books – I favor small collectibles. I can take them with me. They are portable prizes. I collect them in penny collector’s books, now; the sheer number of them suggests the many occasions God has used them to recall his constancy during times of strength and times of fragility.
A loved one’s recent bout with cancer proved just how fragile are the lives of those I love. And yet, those lives are firmly held in the hands of one who loves them and also loves me. The Lord walks hand-in-hand with me, like my grandmother did, collecting treasures with me and then helping me protect them. To remind myself of that, I sourced and purchased uncirculated pennies minted in the year that each of us was born: my husband, myself, my son, my daughter, and my son-in-law. When my son marries, I will add her birth year penny, too.
I keep them close to me – the beloveds and the pennies – to remind myself that God created them in a certain year. He has them in his eye with more affection and oversight even than the sparrows. In God We Trust. I trust you, Lord. Those portable pennies are tucked into a drawer in my office and sometimes carried in a pouch in my purse, close at hand when my loved ones cannot be.
What do you collect, cherish, display, or tuck away? Whatever it is, you can be sure that your treasures whisper truths about you. As Matthew 6:21 reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also.”
All photos © Sandra Byrd.