We all have them. Those special items we are sure to put up high when babies or drunk friends are around. Things that are likely worth nothing and everything all at once. Gifts received or roses-among-thorns, culled from a heap at the flea market.
My great-grandma was a treasure hunter. She lived until she was 94. She traveled the world and packed little items into her luggage. Charms and wooden crafts, little boxes and pottery. I bet she gulped a bit of excited air into her lungs when she spotted something on an artisan's table, surely unaware she'd someday give it to a great-grandson she really seemed to love.
Every time we saw her, she'd give us something. A trinket she'd found in a place far away, or something she'd made. She knitted slippers and made my favourite strawberry freezer jam. I remember being mesmerized by her. Petite and delicate, not like anyone in my family. Not a farmer or a hard-working machinist. She wore accessories. Long strings of beads or jewels, earrings, bracelets even! Items covered by the sleeve of a lovely blouse, but there, for her to know about. She spoke quietly, smiling. She had lunches with friends, and invited us for tea and delicious little ginger snap cookies. She was never in my blood, but maybe moreso than many people, really, she was. You see, she adopted my grandmother and her three siblings; her vitality and longevity, unfortunately, a few critical degrees away. She was special. She had a little apartment, beautifully decorated. Robin's egg blue walls and lovely furniture. Art work on every available surface. And treasures.
In retrospect, she must have known something was different about me. She gave me these little items no little boy would typically want, let alone cradle in their arms, marveling at to this day. A proud cloisonné bird, decorated with swirls of blue and silver, metal legs. Magical. A beautiful piggy bank, with a handle! I remember thinking, How exotic! And the word "Japan" carved into the bottom. I placed them high on a shelf where they'd be safe, but with a clear view from my bed.
Her photo hangs in my kitchen, where I see her every day, and wish I'd asked a million more questions.