Last week I shared a conversation starter question

that ignited a lively discussion.

Readers shared three things they most cherished,

three things they would clutch in a fire.

I promised to share mine. So here goes.

My first choice:

The jade ring. A work of art connecting me to my past.

I was wearing this ring on my right hand while I tried

to choose my three most cherished things.

Its physical attachment to me already was an advantage.

If I survived the fire, so would this jade ring!

But why does it deserve to be on my list of three?

 Because the stone was a gift from daughter Kate, who brought it back from China when she studied abroad.

Because the setting was designed and created by Judy Wenig-Horswell, professor of art at Goshen College.

Because the President’s Council team, the vice presidents who served with me, commissioned the ring as a gift.

In other words, the ring connects me to family,

to Goshen College and its core value of global citizenship,

and to the faithful service of beloved colleagues.

My second choice was straight ahead of me also.

The deck and its view. My favorite place to be for the last eight years.

The deck and its view. My favorite place to be for the last eight years.

"I lift up mine eyes to the hills."

“I lift up mine eyes to the hills.”

I know, I know. I cheated. A view is not a thing.

And I don’t want to pick up the deck and carry it off, either.

What I love is the experience of being inside the natural world

close to farms, with birdsong sound track, resonating with those lovely mountains.

My friends recognized the nature of this love and encouraged me

to commission a thing — a painting that can go with me if I need to leave this place some day.

Finally, I moved inside to find a third thing.

There it was on the kitchen wall.

Hieratic scale assignment, a Design 101 project done on cloth with a sewing machine. Kate Showalter, artist.

Hieratic scale assignment, moon collage, a project done on cloth with a sewing machine. Kate Showalter, artist. 2001.

This collage tells the story of one special summer night when Kate and I

sneaked out of our house during a full moon,

feeling a little transgressive, wearing night clothes as we walked on the warm sidewalk past other houses.

Kate’s idea of making art with a sewing machine was influenced by another precious piece on the opposite wall in our kitchen:

Erma Martin Yost, gift for my inauguration at Goshen College.

Erma Martin Yost, artist, gift for my inauguration at Goshen College. 1997.

Erma, a visual artist who shares my love of Willa Cather, chose to add words to her gift:

“And the air  . . .

it was like breathing the sun,

breathing the color of the sky.”

The words and colorful image warmed my heart then and continue to inspire me.

Kate had admired Erma’s 1997 piece which hung in our Goshen house.

So five years later, just after 9-11, when she was in her first semester of college,

she created the work of art I cherish most.

Having an object into which to pour love means that it attracts

 more words, more art, and more love.

Behind the golden frame of Kate’s moon collage is a large cardboard pocket.

Inside the envelope is Kate’s written artist statement from 2001.

When I found other treasures, of the right size, I knew where to put them!

This one in Anthony’s early cursive writing means the world to me and lives in the pocket.

Anthony's essay "My Hero." Age 9.

Anthony’s essay “My Hero.” Age 9.

We baby boomers are being told that our kids don’t want our stuff,

both in the media and often by our own children.

I have a hunch, though, that if we and they pick out some items,

and write some stories about why we cherish these things, we could have some great conversations now

and the family will value at least a few heirlooms when we are no longer here.

So why not get started here in the comment space?

Can you tell a story about one cherished thing?

Have you created any kind of guide to family heirlooms or history?

Which piece of art do you cherish most? If you placed an envelope behind it, what would go into it?

Shirley Showalter


  1. June on May 29, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    My cherish thing is a stuffed Koala bear . This bear is special to me as my Dad brought this back from one of his tour of duties to Australia when he served in the RCN. The one I have is a replacement, as the one I had as a girl growing up got loved to death and the fur got all rubbed off. This bear sits on my dresser and just reminds me of the places my Dad toured, his sacrifice to supply for his family. And to my Mom who took care of 3 children while my Dad was at sea.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 6:59 am

      June, I love the “Veleveteen Rabbit” Koala bear story. You loved the cherished thing so much it gave its life for you. And then you did not let the memory of your parents’ sacrifices fade but placed that memory in a new bear. Now you have a little story in words. Maybe the bear can wear a necklace with this message inside? Just a thought.

      • June on May 30, 2019 at 9:21 am

        That is an excellent idea. Thank you.

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on May 29, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    Writing a story to accompany the cherished items is a great idea. I’m going to do that for my three keepers and for other things as well. Thanks.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 7:00 am

      Always fun to inspire an inspirational person to action, Carol. Go for it.

  3. Marian Beaman on May 29, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Lovely objects, stirring stories, all related to your love of art and family, Shirley.

    I’m in sync with Carol’s goal, pairing a story with my objects. Thank you!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 7:03 am

      Thank you, Marian. You found the common threads. Beauty and love. Doesn’t get better than this, does it?

      Of course, your blog already has paired many cherished items and stories. Now all you have to do is print out posts and put them all over the house.


  4. Linda Hoye on May 29, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    Such treasures! I echo the others who appreciate your idea of writing a story about treasured heirlooms for those who will follow us. Another project ahead!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 7:05 am

      Linda, I wonder how you will package your view? 🙂 Enjoy the process.

  5. Merril D Smith on May 30, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Good ideas, Shirley. I love your deck and view!

  6. Laurie Buchanan on May 30, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Shirley — I thoroughly enjoyed reading the backstory of each of your treasures. Thank you for sharing.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 11:26 am

      Thanks, Laurie. Hope you and Len and Willa have a lovely time in the air and in the mountains.

  7. Kathleen Pooler on May 30, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Beautiful sharing, ShirleyI thoroughly enjoyed the story behind each item and I especially enjoyed packaging that marvelous view. Thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Thank you, Kathy. You have a great view of your own, I believe. Fields of growing vegetables and lots of flowers. So many ways to enjoy natural beauty!

  8. Joan on May 30, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Lovely post and lovely thoughts behind each one of your treasures!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks, Joan! I know you, as an artist, must struggle with this issue also. And that you will have a good solution.

  9. Marlin Gerber on May 30, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Your deck was the most significant for me. We have a deck with tables and chairs looking out over a West Lake in Portage, Michigan
    so I have similar sentiments as yours regarding a quiet place to meditate. Marlin in Kalamazoo.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Marlin, so sorry I didn’t see this comment until now. I send you greetings, deck to deck, and thank you for loving a lovely part of the world. From “my” mountains to “your” lake. The earth is the Lord’s.

  10. Erma Martin Yost on May 30, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Shirley, I could not agree more when you state that if we write stories about our cherished items great conversations and appreciation will follow. My most cherished item is a wooden sewing caddy given to me by my mother-in-law one Christmas. It had been made by my husband when was in the second grade and given to her on Mother’s Day. A well placed nail held a thimble for a stubby tail, other nails held spools of thread, a small sewing scissors served as a beak to peck at a red tomato pincushion, and white metal thumbtacks served as eyes. It thrills me just to look at it. Another cherished item is a loose leaf notebook with photos of my Martin ephemera and heirlooms. When first photographing, it was done for purposes of identification but I soon realized each item had a story that must be preserved. I asked two nieces if they’d want the items, and both said the offer made them cry. For complicated reasons, they had no Martin memorabilia and I have no children. A notebook was given to each and the actual items were handed over in two batches. Amid joy, laughter, and tears stories got elaborated, and their questions asked and answered. During the entire process I came to realize I had kept only things associated with happy memories of home where it all began and now others are enjoying them. The notebook with the photos and stories is definitely one of my treasures I’d grab if fleeing the house.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      Erma, thank you for offering a further dimension to the story and photo you shared privately with me last week. I really wish WordPress allowed photos in the comment section. Can you imagine who designed the sewing caddy? It had to be done by a really ingenious person with a lovely sense of humor.

      I am so glad you were able to share your items with your nieces, and that you can keep them also thanks to the magic of digital photography. I think the impulse to save the happy memories and not pass along anything that holds negative thoughts is a good one. Every generation needs to know that a previous generation loved and cared. The notebook is indeed precious.

      I am so glad I am reminded of you often as I walk through my house!

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