Tuesday, October 16, 2012


After a recent trip, we were asked by a U.S. Customs agent, "You didn't buy anything?" The things we had bought were too small and insignificant to even declare upon re-entering the country. My years of collecting are over even though I enjoy and treasure the mementos we already have of our travels. I'm too near the age of downsizing to keep accumulating trinkets even though the grandchildren love to play with my little tchotchkes. I keep some of the less fragile items in a box so they can look at them and they seem to enjoy touching and arranging them.

Each of my knickknacks has a story and amazingly, I remember where and why I bought them. One of the most memorable became a recent replay of an interesting story with my son and his family. This little plastic bird was shown in demonstrations in Paris at the top of the steps leading to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. We had traveled to Paris and London with our son when he was six so naturally the bird was something that appealed to him. They would wind up a rubber band inside the bird and release the bird to the air so that it would flap its wings and fly around. The rubber band has broken with age, and the crank that was attached to wind it has gone missing. However, it is still cute and carries a lot of memories of seeing it carried around Europe by a six-year-old. It has resided in my travel memories boxes for 30 years just waiting to be delightful again to another little four-year-old boy. My house is a treasure chest for the son of my son. My grandson carries around a cardboard box of a few of my indestructible tiny knickknacks. He likes to line them up on a table like little soldiers.

The NYTimes is keeping an account of stories of souvenirs that people have collected on their travels. My souvenirs are the typical tourist trinkets like stacking dolls from Russia or glass items from Venice and Blue Willow pottery from the Netherlands. I don't buy valuable things and we take tons of pictures to remind us of our travels rather than bringing back a houseful of collectibles. We have boxes of t-shirts that we collected from around the world, but we never wear them. I'm not sure why, but it never seems to be an appropriate time to wear them. Coffee mugs, shot glasses, and refrigerator magnets have found their way into our luggage quite often.  I'm afraid the NYTimes wouldn't find my kitsch to be very interesting.

So we told the U.S. Customs agent that we spent all of our money just paying for the trip. It seemed to be more than satisfactory for the Customs agent.