I have long been fascinated by what makes memories stick. Why do some people remember everything about a moment, when someone else who was there remembers nothing? Different things impact us in different ways and we are all attached to memories for different reasons.
Some of the simplest things will trigger a wave of flashbacks to wash over us. Maybe it’s a song that reminds us of a time in our lives and makes us smile; maybe it’s the scent of a certain flower that we associate with someone special.
A few years ago I shared with you one of my favorite childhood flashbacks from Great-Grandma Tillie Brown’s house in Bathgate, N.D. I remember Grandma Brown reaching for a red Folgers coffee can – her cookie jar. I can still hear the sound of the plastic lid separating from the tin can and I remember the smell of the oatmeal raisin cookies from that can so clearly that I can almost taste the treats.
I now have a small collection of Folgers coffee cans in my home. They vary in size and age, none of them have lids, and they are the only red items in our house.
A few weeks ago I was picking through an old barn-style antique store near Battle Lake, Minn. and I stumbled upon a vintage Folgers coffee can – one with a lid. I squealed with delight and the other ladies with my wondered what on earth the fuss was all about.
“It has a lid!” I said, as if that would explain my excitement. I launched in to the story about Grandma Brown, the cookies, and the coffee can, and then things made sense to everyone else.
After that moment I started seeing this happen to other people. At a junk and antique sale I helped host last weekend in Fargo I recognized a twinkle that appeared in people’s eyes.
“Oh my goodness!” one woman gasped. “This is just like the bedspread my grandmother had!” She bought it on the spot because she said it reminded her of her childhood.
That night we posted a photo of a vintage spice rack online as one of the photos of new merchandise we would have available in the morning. A college student posted on the photo at 11:30 p.m., “Do you still have this?!!?!” he asked with extreme punctuation.
Minutes later he posted again, “I really want this but I don’t know what time I can make it there tomorrow.”
I couldn’t imagine why a college guy would want a burnt orange spice rack that just happened to have glitter in some of the jars. I was trying to sell it as a craft organizer.
The next evening just as we were about to lock the doors at the end of the sale the college student appeared. He was 6’3” with sleeves of colorful tattoos on his arms. I located the spice rack and handed it to him and he held it against his chest just for a moment. He looked up with that twinkle in his eye and he said, “My grandmother had this exact spice rack. I can’t believe I found a replica. Just looking at it reminds me of her.”
It was such a sweet moment. It reminded me that sometimes the smallest things can remind us of people and those sweet memories that we want nothing more than to hold close to us.