Freebies are Priceless

Chantal - Baden, Switzerland
Entered on April 3, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy
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I believe in collecting the free things in life.

Since I come from a family of packrats, I naturally see any hotel room as a place of opportunity. A small sewing kit with a button? Not just one, but two little bottles of shampoo? A couple of tea bags, you name it, they are all scooped up and put into my suitcase, hidden of course, among clothes, should the maid decide to go snooping and not refill what is rightfully mine for the next day.

“Stealing the shampoo again, are we?” my husband will say condescendingly, actually wanting to use the soap instead of taking it home to admire for decades.

“These are for us,” I’ll say, stressing the word “us”. But he’ll just grumble and groan, imagining hundreds of little bottles falling into the sink as he opens our already bursting bathroom cabinet looking for his razor.

I grew up in Illinois, and the most notorious collector of the family, my grandmother, trained me at a young age. Every time we went to a restaurant, my grandmother would hide her paper placement in her gigantic Art Institute of Chicago purse, pretending innocently with the waiter that she didn’t get one. She saved napkins, little sugar packets, small menus, and cardboard coasters that had seen better days.

Most of these items, she stored in drawers in the family room. As I child, I would look at these objects in wonder, imagining all the different places they came from. When I visited my grandparents, they inspired me to play tea room and I would set the different napkins and placemats on a blanket that masqueraded as a fine tablecloth and use my grandmother’s many menus as inspiration to create my own.

Since she passed away five years ago, my grandfather has inherited her 86-year collection. He doesn’t know what to do with it all, but he goes over each piece, remembering the place it came from, the joy it brought her, all while examining the amazingly low prices on menus from the 70s.

“It was only 50 cents for a cup of coffee back then—can you imagine,” he’ll say, the paper menu shaking in his hands, his words choking him.

And then, even though he is on a mission to clean out the house they lived in together for 53 years, even he cannot rid himself of any of her “collections”—not even the napkins. As much as the piles of photographs that surround him, these simple freebies have become priceless; they are the stuff of memories—of the places they came from, of the person that took them.

Someday my husband will understand. This I believe.