Ten treasured possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

I was touched, reading a personal essay in the weekend FT by Madison Marriage (what a byline!), that her brother Charlie died at 32 of an epileptic seizure. Marriage, pregnant with her second child, found a handmade origami mobile he left for her baby…now her most treasured possession.

I’ve lived in a one bedroom apartment for decades, so accumulating piles ‘o stuff hasn’t been an option, although candor forces me to admit to a crowded garage with artwork we change up from time to time, old books and magazines and assorted stuff we keep trying to get rid of.

But I have a few things, some unlikely and of little financial value, I treasure:


My late mother, from whom I was estranged for the last decade of her life, traveled the world alone for years and lived in New Mexico, Peru, Bath, Massachusetts, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, then Victoria, B.C., Mousie was always there…a tiny stuffed mouse missing a bit of one ear, his string tail stained with ink. When three large boxes arrived after she died, I was so happy to discover Mousie in one of them, a sweet and happy memory of her and some of our adventures.

A pewter Art Nouveau plate

This belonged to my maternal grandmother and I loved it. My mother had it and left it to me. No idea where they found it.

A very small Stieff bear

I was at boarding school at the age of eight, the youngest. This tiny and portable bear offered such comfort — tucked into the deep pocket of my beige cotton uniform shirt, sitting stop a prayer book in the pews at yet another church service.

My passport

Even though I chose to move to the U.S., I am very grateful for my Canadian citizenship and would never give it up.

My “green card”

Which is more pink, and is my proof of admittance to live and work legally in the U.S., renewed every decade.

A professional photo of me taken during a magazine shoot about kids and cooking

My mother was a national magazine editor in Canada for a while and made sure to sneak me into a few photo stories! I have very few photos of myself as a child and teen, and almost none of me in my 20s and 30s. So I love this one. It’s of me and the daughter of her then best friend — we had been ordered (!) to have a flour fight and we’re absolutely dazed with the joy of sanctioned mayhem.

My National Magazine Award

My first husband, a physician I met when we both lived in Montreal, walked out on the marriage after barely two years. It was humiliating as hell, although not a great surprise as we were unhappy and he was clearly involved with a colleague he shortly married. OUCH. There’s no sweeter revenge than retailing one’s misery for a magazine story…but winning this award, which is very competitive, was an incredible moment for me. I finally framed it and it hangs on our living room wall.

My wedding earrings from Jose

They were a total surprise, and I wear them almost every day, everywhere.

Invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth

What a day! I had spent the prior two weeks racing all over Manitoba. New Brunswick and Ontario as a member of the massive press entourage following a Royal Tour, as a staff reporter for the Globe and Mail, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was by far the toughest assignment of my 20s since, really, there’s no news and little say beyond — today she opened a highway, today she attended a formal dinner. Etc. But we were all invited, at the end, aboard Britannia for drinks and ohhhhh, all the equerries.

An Inuit Polar bear print

In 1961 when this print was made, Inuit art was a very new development in the Canadian art world…and my mother would only have been 27 when she bought it, typical of her fearless and eclectic taste. It’s become one of the most famous of these, and I long admired it on her wall, decade after decade, wherever she lived. Of all her possessions, this was the one item I hoped she might bequeath to me. I adore it — and its teal color exactly (!) echoes our bedroom blind and headboard fabric.

When my profligate and wealthy maternal grandmother died she owed a massive amount of unpaid tax — to Ontario, Canada and the U.S. government, so most of her things were sold to pay those bills; one gorgeous armoire is in a Toronto museum.

So I’d never had the expectation of inheriting “heirlooms” with a deep family connection. I did inherit a massive pastel portrait of her mother, and a small bas-relief of her, which I am glad to have. My father has some lovely things, but also has four adult children and it’s a very deeply divided group — none of us ever lived together and I’ve never even met one and don’t want to.

Our own challenge is deciding who to leave our things to, as we have no children and aren’t close to younger relatives.

What are some of the items you treasure and why?

18 thoughts on “Ten treasured possessions

  1. Damn, dude, you get around. I love the flour fight pic, your face is just the same. I am just mad about the Inuit print and the Art Nouveau plate. We went to an Alphonse Mucha exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Amazing is too trite and overdone (Redundant?) a word to describe it. I would go more with illuminating or revelatory.
    I have some stuff I think is special, even if it’s not all that. There’s a little wooden box on my dresser that holds my extremely dry wedding corsage. I’m pretty sure it’s far more important to me than anyone else.
    I have a guitar that I built from parts. It’s not my best guitar but it is the one I value the most highly.
    I have fetishes that live around my neck, one tooth, one claw. The claw is from a bear and the tooth is a large canine tooth, corded in an African style. Its origin is unknown, but my dentist assures me that it is a tooth with an enamel surface, so it hasn’t been carved or otherwise altered.
    Finally, I have seven round steel tags, thumbtacked to the walls of my bedroom. When one of our cats passes away we have them cremated. When the ashes are returned to us, they come with one of these numbered tags. You never die if someone remembers you.
    This was a good post, thank you.

  2. Those are pretty nice. I have a doll and figurine collection I’m quite proud of, and I own the entire series of my favorite manga (which is out of print in the US now, so it wasn’t easy to get). While neither were inexpensive, both required a lot of time and effort to get, and I love being able to look at them and have them in my life. They show not only my interests, but also how I was able to get them on my own, and that’s special for me.

      1. Jan Jasper

        Caitlin I’m impressed with your collection, that Art Nouveau pewter plate is amazing. I have only a few things from my forebears, unfortunately. Upstairs in my house is a bed from around 1880, carved by my great-great-great-grandfather – I treasure it. Some things I wish I had kept from my forebears I have lost track of, unfortunately

      2. Wow…your bed sounds amazing. That is a true treasure!!

        I am so lucky to be able to enjoy the plate…given the lack of relationship with my mom, it means a lot she left it to me (or at least didn’t give it to someone else.)

  3. what an interesting collection, I can see why you treasure each of these things. I have an old hickory cane, complete with knots, that was my great grandfather’s in Ireland. I also have a tam with our family crest on it, my mother’s passport used on her only international trip, and a treasured picture of my sister who I lost when we were both in our twenties. I have kept a few special things from each of my daughters, and still have the wonderful 7.00 hardwood table they bought me at a thrift shop.

  4. Jan Jasper

    I am in the same situation as you, not knowing who to leave things to. I don’t have children; I had one sibling, a brother, who died decades ago. I guess I could leave the 1880s bed to my cousin because we share the same grandparents. I also have a large framed portrait of our great grandparents that was taken at their wedding , around 1900. If I outlive my cousin I might leave these to him. BTW I go to a lot of estate sales and it seems sad to see family pictures up for sale to strangers.

    1. This is one reason we are glad to have several much younger friends — in their 20s to 40s — and we are planning to discuss this with some of them.

      I also plan to pitch this as a story idea to AARP Magazine, one of the very few that still pays well.

  5. As my move to the ‘other’ coast looms I admit I’m being less than discerning when asking ‘what stays?’ and ‘what goes?’…I’ve always lived in small spaces but now I’m moving to a home where more than one person at a time can stand in the kitchen and my oven won’t double as storage space. And so I did not use this opportunity to let go of notes written in my mother’s perfect Palmer penmanship or books I’ve not opened in years. Who lets go of books anyway? The things we choose to carry with us – like Mousie – carry an energetic imprint that we can feel. The things we choose to carry with us still have stories to tell.

  6. fionayb

    Caitlin, these are such wonderful objects. Thank you for sharing them with us. Something I have taken with me everywhere I move is a book of children’s poems and stories. When I was very small, my parents got one of those complete encyclopedia and storybook sets that were so popular in the 1970s. A few months later my mother kicked out my dad after learning he had gambled away everything rather than paying the bills. We were about to be evicted and the encyclopedias were being repossessed. The man who came to get them let 5-year old me pick one to keep. The poems and the book have been a comfort over the years, a reminder of innocent, simpler times, but also a reminder of the kindness of a stranger.

    1. Love this subject and your story. Unfortunately, I’m unable to choose only 10 fave objects. In my Paris (rental) studio, I have a built-in bookcase, dubbed my sentimentheque, whose 6 narrow shelves display more than I have time to count right now, incl some, books, some photos + objects. Probably most prized is my dad’s invitation to tea at the White House: The President and Mrs. Roosevelt will be glad to receive Mr. Count on Monday afternoon January the twentieth nineteen hundred and forty-one at five o’clock

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