Carol Jane Remsburg
Even before I begin this journey, I thought I'd better look up the definition of the word. Its literal definition is much at odds with my own version.
1 : a black siliceous stone related to flint and formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal
2 : a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing
3 : a fundamental or quintessential part or feature
My own touchstones are much different. They are my links to the past and people who I can no longer reach out and touch. These are the items that they had at one time touched, handled, owned, and then gifted to me. These are items I prize highly because of what and who they represent to me. It is a part of their lingering essence not their moldering selves.
Throughout our lives we acquire things. It might be through an expenditure of cash. It might be won through hard labor. Or, it might be presented to you with love. Of everything we possess in a physical nature, nothing abides as strongly as something we feel we've earned, or been given by one we cherish.
Many years ago I felt watched over, loved, and protected by what I felt and internally designated my "Pillar of Three." They were my mother, my father, and my paternal grandmother. From my earliest beginnings and memories, they kept watch over me. I was safe within their cocoon and nothing truly horrible could ever happen to me while they were still there.
People, of course, are finite creatures in the physical sense. We are not forever. My "Pillar of Three" crumbled with the passing of my grandmother, father, and mother—thirteen, twelve, and eleven years ago respectively. I've had many years to come to terms with their passing. It's never been easy; sometimes it has been downright hard and painful. However, time does help a little and so do the touchstones in my life.
We have our pictures as they yellow and fade in their frames and our memories. Our touchstones are what help to keep those memories fresh and alive. We corral them about us and keep them close to our hearts.
I'll never forget when my mother died. My sisters and I sat around the new glass topped table in the new Florida-room in their new home that they never had a chance to truly enjoy. Pain, loss, and a feeling that we were suddenly adrift without any moorings were etched deeply into each of our faces. We three girls struggled mightily to maintain the decorum of the moment. To say this was hard or difficult was like stating the climb to Everest's summit was just a stiff stroll.
Together we had to share, select, and divide the remaining possessions of our parents and what had been handed down to them. Nobody wanted to go first. Nobody wanted to step on another's toes. Nobody wanted to cry, but the tears were so close, so raw, so tempting that we didn't dare. If we had, we would have dissolved into a quivering mass of tears and never have marched on with our lives. It was what we were expected to do—and we did it with love, respect, and grace. Even with the internal politics of sisterhood, the moment was not without candor or love. We managed better than any other grouping of siblings that I could imagine. We still lived and we loved each other. We held on and held together as the whipping winds of grief battered us about.
Of the household items I won't remunerate, the cherished items that I coveted seemed to hold little draw of the others, or perhaps they allowed me too. Perhaps they had their own touchstones of importance that they hoped neither of the others would select.
For me, there was a clock, a ship's clock that had been handed down to my father from his uncle. It was a clock that Daddy doted on and the house I grew up in had always chimed the watch bells. It still does to this day—in my own home. Then, there was the rocker, a Martha Washington rocker. Granted it's an antique and worth something, but how much I don't know or care. It came from another relative via my paternal grandmother and then to my mother along with Grandmom's old patchwork afghan. I had to have it. Then, there was the mounted prop of my grandfather's boat, the Ida S. My daddy prized it, so it became my prize as well. In with that, there was also an elderly microwave that my dad had bought my mom years ago at Montgomery Wards as a Christmas present. After 22 years, it's still in use.
Then there was the jewelry. None of us wanted to touch any of it. There wasn't a huge array, but there was one that was the centerpiece. It was another item that had been handed down in the family. We played the game of "hot-potato" with it. I lost because neither of my sisters wanted the "other" to have it for obscure reasons, I do. Having to keep it regularly appraised for insurance reasons; it is considered "flawless" and a "one-of-a-kind" by all the local jewelers. I keep it insured and locked up. However, its worth is nothing to me compared with my real treasures.
What prompted all this today? Well, before my grandmother died she had to give up her home. She wasn't sure what was wrong with her but her sons knew she could no longer live alone. This was only months before the diagnosis of ALS was discovered. She had mere months to live.
It was the most hurtful cut to her as she'd spent decades looking out for others. However, before she gave up her home to come and live so briefly with my parents, she made her designations to her children and grandchildren.
Many of these items were simple household goods. The woman had a warehouse full of toilet paper, paper towels, and regular towels. She parceled out her china and knickknacks, her "pinkware" and carnival glass ashtrays and objects 'art.
From my seat at my computer I see my laundry blowing in the wind. Amid the flapping jeans and snapping towels is one towel that I've had for nearly 14 years. It has yet to fray and is still the heaviest towel in the house. I don't know where my grandmother got it, but I feel it will still be going strong for another 5-10 years at least. They certainly don't make them like that anymore.
So when I do wander through my abode and see the prop mounted on the wall, the clock that dings "six bells and all's well," the rocker draped with the afghan that no one is allowed to sit upon, I sigh. I touch, I feel, and I remember. My "Pillar of Three" will never be gone from me. I'll keep them alive within me. I'll write, I'll share everything about them that I can with my daughter to carry them on through her. My only sadness is that she couldn't know them, feel them, and experience the wonder of them.
My touchstones are of real worth, not the faery dust of gold. Gold is only a rock. Without someone else's desire to have it, the gold becomes even less than that. No, my touchstones have a higher value, something which all the past cries out to. I may not treasure my earliest ancestors, but my parents and their parents along with their treasures have become mine.
Touchstones are an integral part of the present and the past. They have lives of their own and stories to tell—stories worth repeating and sharing. The feelings and memories they evoke cannot be put aside for they are too powerful for we mere mortals. We are little without them.