Some people collected match books, the old cardboard types found in bars of Asia. We picked them up in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other ports of call. You remember them like yesterday. Small and rectangular filled with wooden matchsticks. Bars with names like Top Hat, The White Rose, The Black Rose, Honey’s, The Texas Bar, Pete’s, Angela’s…as you know, the list goes on. A collection of memories is what those matchbooks were. Some of these treasures had designs on them that seemed quite unfamiliar. Some designs were scenic, some were erotic, some were boring, and yet others only had the name of the Bar with an address. The address was placed in hopes of luring you back to that great little watering hole located in some back alley. Yes, more memories and mostly good ones.
Then other people collect stamps. Stamps from all over the world…a plethora of colors. Small often square, occasionally rectangular bits of paper with oh so many different denominations. All of these stamps had intricate designs depicting people, objects, places, seasons, flowers…whatever your interest may be, you could find a stamp depicting that interest. As you placed that stamp in its’ holder, your mind drifted off to another remembered place…ahhh so infinitely grand that place was. More memories come flooding back and make you yearn for one last visit to this place or that place.
We collected knives too. Some had fancy handles with a lanyards attached to prevent us from losing it. The handles were sometimes wooden or real bone…alas plastic as well. We had single bladed, two bladed, the Swiss Army type with so many different attachments…the thing actually felt ridiculous! We would spend hours learning how to sharpen the knife so the cutting edge would be sharp and true. We would do “shave the hair on your arm” test to ensure the knife was ready for any purpose. For many years we just threw these old knives in drawers…probably forgetting about them. Then one day we would be tinkering in the yard or around the house and all of a sudden we would need a good sharp knife. “Now where did I put that knife” we would ask ourselves. A memory then surfaced and we know where we put that knife, how we came in possession of this bit of craftsmanship, where we found it or purchased it, or the Shipmate who gave us that knife. Again, we are swept up in a memory. We were unloading cargo, we were alongside another ship engaged in an underway replenishment operation, we were at sea detail and entering another port-o-call. Or we were in the engine room engaged in some task that required the use of an electricians knife. Being the prepared sailor that we were that knife was in our tool bag and ready for use. Memories are always a part of us and will always refresh us in so many ways.
In recent years it seems we have found ourselves collecting “challenge coins”. You know the ones I mean. Some only 1.5 inches in diameter, some of them as much as 3 inches in diameter. The coin represents, a person, or a duty station you served at, or a certain ship. Sometimes multicolored, some made of brass or coated with a smooth finish of gold plate. Some are plastic but most are metal and represent something or someone that was special in your life. These small bits of metal are precious to us. As we pick up the coin, we handle it gently, we turn it over and look at the other side. Our memory again drifts back to another day in time. The particular coin may be from a ship and was presented to you by the Skipper at your reenlistment. You remember that Skipper, his likes, his dislikes. You remember the division, the men in the division. They were all your Shipmates and you their Shipmate. You depended on one another, your lives were in each others hands, especially during war or other calamities that can befall a ship at sea. Ah yes, sweet and sometimes bitter memories are evoked and you recall that these memories are what define you and your existence.
Now that we have retired from the sea, no longer visiting those interesting and wonderful ports of call we have settled into the life of the landlubber. As we have more room now, our collecting has turned to books. Books of all genre. We study US History, World History, History of wars around the world, History of our war, fiction, non-fiction, science, the list goes on you know. Collecting and reading these books stokes our passions. Our memories are brought to life again and again. Reading has become our drug of choice. We enjoy sitting down in our easy chair and opening maybe a well read and used book for another read. We enjoy exploring new books as well…and nonetheless our memories again become a source of great pride in having faced challenges, undergone hardships, happiness, sadness and so many other emotions. And so in closing we realize that the chapters of our life are many and varied and the memories that sustain us are precious and can not be replaced. We live each day as though it is our last and continue to challenge ourselves as we did when we were young and in the prime of our life. We travelled all over the world and will continue that voyage in our minds eye and be thankful that we are allowed to do this.