My grandfather gave me a set of monogrammed handkerchiefs for Christmas—I didn’t know what to make of the present, but I loved it. I was six, seven, eight years old. One of those ages from when my memories themselves are clear but unanchored to time. I never used them, never took them out of the clear plastic box they came packaged in, like the occasional Star Wars figure or Star Wars Lego set or Star Wars Micro Machines that I left in its packaging, wanting to save it more as souvenir than toy. These three small squares of cloth packed next to one another, rolled into tight spheres such that my embroidered inititals were visible through the packaging. AMB AMB AMB. A symbol of being an adult, a dad, a man. Handkerchiefs, the plastic comb my dad always had in his back pocket, a wallet overfilled with unnecessarily kept receipts, a pocket knife. I had a Swiss Army one—a present, surely, though if for Christmas or a birthday or just an upcoming backpacking trip, I don’t remember. I keep a different pocket knife on my desk, one that once belonged to a different grandfather than the one who gave me the handkerchiefs. A Case brand, it says on the handle. My full name is etched into the blade, and on the handle itself are my initials and his, the years he was alive and the year it was given to me. I was twenty-two. I don’t know or don’t remember if he’d had it etched himself before he passed away or if it was done after, at his request, or if my parents did it on their own decision.
When I was ten, eleven, twelve years old, I listened to Casey’s Top 40 every weekend. I wrote down the top ten in a notebook I kept. Like a log, like I might be able to figure out some kind of math equation that I could then solve. How to be cool, a man, an adult. I wish I still had that notebook, but it’s gone. Like my old Swiss Army knife, like the monogrammed handkerchiefs. That’s one of the attributes of time—some things gained, others lost. Sometimes I think about all the things I’ve lost, but other times I think about all the things I still have. I do still have many—most? all?—of the ticket stubs from movies and concerts I went to as a teenager, I still have a set of autograph books I made myself, one for each country, that I took to a bunch of Goodwill Games baseball games my dad took me to when I was twelve. Sometimes I wonder why I kept some things and not others. Sometimes I wonder why it seems like I lost all the things I wish I still had and I still have all the things I wouldn’t miss if I had lost, and other times I know it is that very keeping or losing that inspires my desire for having lost or kept. And then other times still, it’s just… oh, I don’t know.
Aaron Burch is the Founding Editor of Hobart, and the author of the criticism-turned-memoir Stephen King’s The Body and the story collection Backswing.