On my desk sits a small brown pottery jar, crammed full of pens and pencils. It’s not much to look at, but it has been on every desk I’ve had for many years and unless it somehow gets broken into a million pieces, it will be on my desk for the rest of my life. On the bottom of the jar is the amateur potter’s name, scratched into the surface, the last three letters tiny and cramped because her name was long and she ran out of space. She was a dear friend of mine, and she died more than 30 years ago at the age of 28.
Most of us possess objects that mean far more than their physical properties would suggest. We hold them in our hands and remember someone who is no longer with us. We look at them and remember a moment that will never be equaled. They are talismans, symbols. The Agatha Award teapot assumed this magical aura the moment it was placed in my shaking hands. It represented the end of a long and painful struggle to get my work into print, to reach a point where I could truly call myself a writer. I will never part with it. But which means more to me, the teapot or the little brown jar made by my friend? I don’t think I could choose.
When a writer gives a character an object with special meaning, the reader understands and is drawn into the character’s emotional life. Think of all the soldiers in novels and war movies who carry mementos of loved ones into battle and bring tears to our eyes simply by taking these precious objects out of their pockets and looking at them. And who could ever forget Citizen Kane and his sled named Rosebud? In the novel I recently completed, the main character, a young woman named Erin, receives a necklace with a ladybug charm on it as a gift from her parents. The day she receives it, the day she stops wearing it, and the day she fastens it around her neck again are major turning points in her life.
What objects do you own that have special meaning? Can you recall a fictional character whose attachment to a memento helped you understand his or her emotional life?