Thursday, January 3, 2013


It's amazing the lessons life gives us at the strangest of times.  It's even more amazing the value people put on the littlest things.

There's a scene in the the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indiana Jones is drunk in a bar, having just watched a truck carrying Marion explode.  In the bar, he is confronted by his rival, Belloq, who says something rather profound.

"Look at this... it's worthless... ten dollars from a vendor in the street.  But I take it, bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless..."

Most people have something in their lives that are worthless to everyone but themselves.  A photo, a lock of hair, a drawing by their child... something.

I'm a sentimental person.  In many ways, I could shed almost all by possessions and be happy.  But there a few things that matter to me a great deal.

Sentimental Value.

What some people see as junk to me can be priceless.  An example is an estate sale.  I've been to a few of these, usually of soldiers.  Their children have no use for most of the items the soldiers collected during the war.  To them, it's nothing.  To that soldier, it was probably a reminder not just of the war, but of friends lost and friendships that endured.

For some people, those relics are a gold mine, as militaria can be quite valuable.  I see the objects as History, and, when I acquire one, that I am just it's steward through my time here.

One of my pieces.  This is a Princess Mary Brass Tobacco Tin, Christmas 1914

What made me think of this (finally to the point, right?) was this past weekend.  I went to a gathering of old friends.  It was a "second wake" for one friend who died a year ago, but one of us was in China and couldn't attend the funeral.  He returned for a few weeks, so we had this gathering.  It was fun, yet subdued.  We did this at a local hotel, and I booked a room for the night. 

Several people brought beer.  As I have a bottle opener on my house key ring (I keep my car keys separate), I had those out and on the table holding the iced down beers.  Simple enough.

So we were all there, playing games, having fun until the wee hours (rare for people our age- but we used to play cards until dawn all the time in our youth.)  At the end of the night, I gave my winnings, meager as they were, to the host as part of my payment for the conference room, and went to bed.

It wasn't until I arrived home the next morning that I discovered that I'd left my house keys back at the hotel.  A few frantic phone calls later, they weren't found, so I went back to the hotel and checked the conference room, where I found them on the floor next to my chair.  So I found them.

Ok, so I lost my keys.  So what?

The key ring itself was given to me in high school by a friend.  It attached to another key ring given to me by another friend in 1983.  But most important to me- precious beyond price- was a little piece of metal hanging on that keyring.  It maybe cost $2 back in the early 1970s when it was first purchased.  Maybe an inch in diameter.  Steel.

It's a dog tag.  Really from a dog.  I'll call him S.

S was the family dog as I was growing up- one of two dogs we had.  One of them died in 1979 leaving S as the only pet.  He was a pure breed German Shepherd, and was big for his breed.  There were many times in my childhood that he was my only friend. 

S died of cancer in August 1983.  He was 11.  I was 16.  His death threw me into my first major depression, which lasted months.

I took his tag from his collar and put it on my key chain, where it remains to this very day.

The Tag.  Rear View. The front has S's name and the address where I grew up.

Nearly thirty years. There aren't many things I've had that long.  Less than five, I think.  That tag was with me through the end of high school, all the way through college, through the turbulent years after college and all the way through my "adult" life since getting married.  Actually to think of it- I stopped dressing as a woman around that time- summer of 1983

So there it was, on my key ring that I lost.  Keys?  I can have them copied.  The key rings themselves?  Well, in the end, they're just key rings given to me by people I haven't seen or spoken to in years.  But that Dog tag?  I was so afraid I'd lost it.

So if it's so important to me, why do I keep it on my key ring where I can easily lose it?  Why not frame it with a picture of the dog? 

"S", circa 1981

That's a really good question.  Maybe because it's always been on that key ring?  Maybe I draw just a tiny bit of comfort knowing it's there?

My current dog, "N,"  is 12.  She's in good health, but that could change quickly (as it did with S.)  She's the first dog I've had since S died, and we found her at an animal rescue shelter in 2000.  N is a German shepherd mutt.  My parents never got another pet, but really love when I bring N to visit them.  They seemed happier to see her than me before my daughter was born.  Now it's all about her.  I'm just the transport method for my daughter and dog. 


Someday, hopefully not soon, N will pass as well.  And Her tag will join S's on my key ring.  It's my way of honoring their memory and keeping even a small part of them with me, I suppose.

And if my wife and I ever have a house without her mom in it, we will again have pets.  Cats for my Wife, and another dog for me (but only after N passes.)

We all keep our memories one way or the other.  Some we bury, or try to.  Others we desperately cling to, as they are the bright points that keep us going even when things are at their darkest.

My teens were a very dark time.  Were there some good memories?  Yes of course, a few.  S was one of the few bright spots.  N is currently a bright spot, and I'm happy to say I am in a far better place now than I was in my teens.  I have accepted who I am- that I am a Woman.  And my Wife accepts it.  I have friends who understand and accept me, which I didn't have as a teen.


My acceptance of who I am took a long, long time.  And getting to my eventual destination will also take time, and be very rough. 

If having a dog tag reliquary helps me along this path, so be it.


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