The Things We Keep

Mementos and why we cherish them

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Illustration by Thovatey Tep.
Illustration by Thovatey Tep.

From baby shoes to human teeth and puppets to old letters — these are the objects we hold dear. People collect souvenirs to mark their journeys and to remember specific moments in their lives. These keepsakes say as much about the moment as they do about the owner.

“If you have something, even from a bad part of your life, looking at the object, it feels very nostalgic even though it’s not a good memory,” said Lyle Lynde, a Santa Cruz based artist. “It’s funny how you can have positive nostalgia with a bad memory.”

Lynde keeps a necklace containing the ashes of her cat, Sally May Berry Farm — she named her when she was six — since Sally’s death three years ago. “It’s really weird when a pet dies that you’ve had since you can remember.”

The necklace, given to her by her mother, is a reminder of both the good and bad memories of Sally. At 14, her cat developed a tumor on her face and died shortly after. “The last couple months I had with her she was unrecognizable. She looked like a completely different cat.”

Though she used to wear it all the time, Lynde now keeps it on display in her room. “She was really special to me,” Lynde said. “I’m paranoid about messing it up.”

Looking at such items reminds their keepers of where they have been and who has been there with them. Such is the case with fourth-year molecular, cellular, and developmental biology major Peter Chanseyha.

A rugged goat skull sits on the top shelf of his closet. It reminds him of the late community college professor who gave it to him.

Chanseyha remembers the zoology class as his favorite to date. Because of his perceptive guidance, he was immediately drawn to the professor.

“Having it reminds me of how appreciative I was that he saw so much in me,” Chanseyha said. “He said he was going to be getting a goat and let me help him clean it. It came frozen, so we had to let it thaw. It smelled horrible. It still does.”

At about three years old, the skull smells like a mix of rotting food, wet rug and burnt grease. Though he plans on deodorizing it, he is hesitant to risk damage.

Chanseyha credits his professor with motivating him to pursue biology. Though the professor’s death was unexpected, Chanseyha is glad to have a tangible memory of his mentor. Beyond academics, the professor provided counseling to him during difficult moments in life.

“He taught me a lot outside of biology, too, and encouraged me to apply to UC Santa Cruz, the school he regretted not going to himself,” Chanseyha said.

Precious objects like these are steeped in memories of lost loved ones, childhood and accomplishments that give reason for people to keep them. Furthermore, these material items are often given to others by their friends as a direct representation of what that friendship looks like.

Isaac Samana, fourth-year human biology major, pins a memento of friendship to his bedroom wall. An 11 inch by 17 inch poster of rapper Lil’ Kim’s mugshot greets visitors as they enter his room.

“I look at it every morning and it really motivates me to get up out of bed,” said Samana. The poster was a Christmas gift from a close friend.” Between the profile and frontal shots sits the scribble of Lil’ Kim’s autograph. “It’s real. I refuse to believe it’s not because I love it so much.”

Like the others, Samana’s keepsake holds sentimental weight in a way that goes beyond its material quality. A devout Lil’ Kim fan, Samana felt overjoyed when it was presented to him. “It’s the perfect gift because it combines two of my favorite people in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Though moments pass and objects become weathered, these treasures are kept alive by the memories of what they represent.

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