The things we own—the stuff of our lives—can be beautiful, useful for their own sakes or they can serve to remind us of a time or place or person that was an important part of our lives. I doubt that many of us keep things that bring back bad times, as what, really, would be the point?
When we built our home, I designed a small study for myself with a built-in desk, bookcases and cabinets, a worn leather couch and an Oriental rug on the cherry wood floors. French doors look out to our side yard with a small fountain and a brick patio. It’s less grand than it sounds but it’s my space. The bookcase is reserved for my treasures, each holding a meaning for me.
I only knew one grandparent, a grandmother named Beulah. She read to me, taught me how to play cribbage and was a refuge for me when my parents split up. One book that she shared with me was a slim volume called Just Like Everyone Else, a square red book that tells a delightful story of a boy who is just like everyone else until he isn’t. On its opening page is a simple note: “To Sloane. Love, Grandma.” I have this standing up in my bookcase and see it every day.
Several pieces of art lie in the background of the shelves. One is a lion print created by my sister Shelley when she was in college; she gave it to me when I was a teenager and it has traveled with me ever since. Another is a small pleasing landscape etched by my favorite artist, Luigi Lucioni. There is also a precious watercolor, done by my then eight-year-old daughter Arielle, of our family at the park playing on a swing set. I think she captured the spirit of our family better than any photograph.
Several framed photos—black and white and color—tell their stories: my father with his mother and two younger siblings in Berlin when he was about seven years old before they escaped Nazi Germany; my mother at age four with her quarter-sized violin in a string quartet with three older boys; daughters Arielle and Talia as children with their arms lovingly wrapped around each other; an eight-year-old Josh scoring a soccer goal and a ten-year-old Coby throwing a perfect strike; and, finally, a sweet shot of my brother Dan, my sister Shelley and me when I was around two years old.
There is the baseball I caught at Kenny Holtzman’s no-hitter in Chicago and then got Ernie Banks to sign the next day. Though the ink has largely faded, the ball conjures up one of the best two days in a young baseball-loving boy’s life.
I ended up with the kids’ Hanukkiah from my family—a rare perk of being the youngest—and it sits there waiting to be used for the eight nights of Hanukkah each year. It’s solid brass with two lion heads on either side of a large Magen David. Each year, my own kids light it and now my grandchildren will continue the tradition.
And then there are the books, lots of them, each with a story. In addition to Just Like Everyone Else, there are some first editions by Steinbeck, Kipling and Updike, mostly presents from my family. There are faded copies of Kidnapped, To Kill a Mockingbird and Adam Bede, and there is my Dad’s copy of Kon Tiki, the book that first showed me the joy of reading.
There are several of the books written by my grandfather, Julius Citron, who was an early immunology pioneer, whose work is still relevant today. There are my copies of The Lone Ranger and Young Razzle, early books that have traveled with me, and Herman Wouk’s This is My God, a book that inspired me to live a committed Jewish life.
My Dad’s Ricohflex camera, with its big, boxy shape, forms an interesting design element up there on the top shelf, though few would recognize it as a camera today. I don’t actually remember him using it, but it is now its own piece of art.
One of my favorite items is a sand-powered box trapeze circus acrobat, a bar mitzvah gift. You turn the box around a few times and then the trapeze artist, in a manner similar to a wound grandfather clock, flips for several minutes. It is mesmerizing to watch the little guy silently swing over and over again, the swish of a few grains of sand pushing him forward.
These and other books and objects on the shelves weave together to tell my story, filling me with comfort and gratitude. But the adventures continue, and I am constantly editing the shelves to keep the things up-to-date and fresh; for the past is great, but the future is grander.