From the radio came the soulful voice of one of my favorite singers, the late Marty Robins. This time he wasn’t singing about El Paso or a White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation but about his box of souvenirs. I sang along with him as he picked up some letters tied with blue, a photograph or two, and finally a broken heart among his souvenirs. It’s a touching and painfully beautiful melody with words that move the listener but it’s also the grounds for beginning a long trail of mentally selecting and remembering stops along my own trail through life.

I am a keeper of things, large and small, to the extent that every drawer, every speck of closet space, every room in my house holds precious objects that I feel are necessary for me to lead a happy life. And the collecting of “stuff” never ceases as I continue to add things so that the old dairy barn out back of the house now holds its share of things that I cannot part with. Several times I have been spurred on to “clean out” that old stuff but somehow when I try to throw away a stuffed gray pig that was a childhood toy sewn together by my sister; a red fire truck my daddy bought for me at Hicks and Cobb in Medicine Mounds; that box of ivory dominoes my parents always brought out for 42 parties; that photo of Gene Autry and Champion, the smartest horse in the movies; that notebook of stories and poems that I wrote when I was in elementary school, I just can’t do it. I manage to throw out the daily garbage and yesterday’s newspapers but that is just about all that I will part with.

For me, souvenirs are like a string of precious jewels, each one worth the time to pause for awhile, hold it close, and remember the journey. There is a poem, sometimes read at a funeral. It was written originally for a funeral but is so profound that it could be read at a christening, a high school graduation or any personal event in life. It is called, “The Dash.” There are two dates etched on the tombstone marking the passing of an individual: the date of birth and the date of death. Between those two dates is a dash and that dash is the life journey of the human being that lies beneath the sod. It is what you do with that dash that makes all the difference. Within that dash is the summation of what others think of you and what you may have accomplished in the time you have on earth. Your victories and defeats, your rewards and failures during the length of that dash, become your life.

There isn’t a woman alive who hasn’t one morning gotten out of bed, looked in the mirror and said, “What happened?”

Is that really me? How did I get old so fast? What have I done with my Dash? How did it suddenly get so short?

That’s a moment when hauling out a box of souvenirs can do wonders in recalling moments forgotten when that second date on the marker was way, way out there somewhere and the dash was really long and ended far away in the distant future.