Boite à souvenirs

Boite à souvenirs

I’ve always kept a memory box. None of your nicely curated ones with the pretty covers, neatly annotated photos and properly catalogued albums. Just the random flotsam and jetsam of my life.

Somewhere in our basement is a collection of boxes, battered and bruised. They contain the memorabilia of growing up, the bits and pieces I’ve found it necessary to keep over the years. Always with the vague idea that, one day, I would look fondly through these things and remember that one particular moment: this elation, that heartbreak, the time we… The broken guitar string. The cigarettes I believed I’d never give up.

Thankfully I did quit, and my broken heart mended. And though I never seem to find time to sort through all the keepsakes, I roost upon them like a clucking hen, hoping that one day they’ll hatch into something.

In among the boxes are photos, unsorted, mostly in the envelopes they used to come in when you picked them up from the drug store. What? Yes, mes enfants, we did that.

There are birthday greetings and farewell cards, both funny and corny. Party invitations, concert ticket stubs, student travel cards. There are yearbooks with messages earnest and flip from people I went to school with and have mostly forgotten. Crude comments from clever boys. There is an impassioned letter with an embarrassingly bad poem written by a doorman in London whose heart I apparently stole with my ‘face like an elfin grove.’

There are poems and lyrics of my own, a few that got published in high school reviews. There are my on-again, off-again journals – the sporadic ramblings that kept me sane pre-blog era.

There are the letters – ah, the letters! – exchanged over months of overseas correspondence with a certain Frenchman. And the postcard that changed everything. The one that made me decide he was serious.

There are the family mementos, the cards my kids made for Mother’s Day. Souvenirs of holidays in France and trips back to Canada. Ghosts of Christmas past.

The boxes have gotten thinner of late. Now most of our memorabilia is online. This makes me sad. Nothing can replace the treasures hidden inside my memory box.

Recently I’ve dug through some of it, pulling out pieces I needed for my memoir. So far, though, most of my memorabilia has yet to be released from its boxed purgatory. But I’m glad I saved it, every last bit.

Photo: Robert de Jong

Thanks to Colin Bisset, whose excellent blog recently reminded me of the importance of keeping a journal.

Do you keep a memory box?

Les souvenirs

Les souvenirs

Mini Toothbrush DispenserWhen you think of souvenirs, you probably think of kitschy items like snow globes, seashell picture frames or Eiffel Tower key chains. I remember how important such mementos were to the kids when they were small. That coveted item, shark’s tooth or baseball cap, took pride of place on their dresser before being relegated to the memory boxes that still gather dust in our basement.

Now, our souvenirs tend to be digital. These bits of digital flotsam and jetsam that help us to remember where we were and when, what we did and chose to record. A photo shared on Facebook or emailed to family members, an update or a post about something we saw.

Thinking back on our holiday in Corsica two years ago, this unlikely image came to mind. On a scale of importance, how would you rate a mini-toothbrush dispenser in a restaurant bathroom? It seemed incongruous to say the least, given the French propensity for strong flavours in food and cigarettes (although perhaps those things offer an explanation for the market niche). But given the low priority dental hygiene is generally afforded in France, it was unexpected.

It went against all reasonable expectations of things you would find aux toilettes: Condoms, feminine hygiene supplies, even cigarettes all struck me as more plausible items compared to the (relative) superfluity of a mini-toothbrush dispenser. Presumably it was designed for date nights, as nothing kills the mood more than garlic breath or a bit of spinach in the teeth!

Even odder was the attempt to turn the experience of brushing one’s teeth into a mood memory, with choices ranging from ‘sexy’ to ‘pensive’. I did not try the machine, so cannot say whether the prepared brush with its dollop of toothpaste provided a satisfying experience. I tried to find out more about these dispensers through the usual search methods, by Google only rendered a link to a patent describing the invention, and one other in Le Parisien, mentioning the introduction of the machines to certain restaurants.

As souvenirs go, this photo was hardly emblematic of our stay on the beautiful island, which is why it was relegated to a folder of B-roll pictures. But the image stayed with me as a souvenir in the French sense: a memory, something you take away from an experience that lingers in your mind like a perfume.

Et toi? What is your most unusual souvenir of a summer holiday?