If your house were on fire,

what would you most want to save?

Or, less dramatically, if you strolled through your house today,

which items would you miss most if they weren’t there?

Take your time, I’ll wait for you.

A fiery sunset.

A fiery sunset.

Recently, my friend Tina challenged our group of college friends

to name our three favorite things.

We admitted to each other over three days of conversation

at Bethany Beach

that the assignment was a hard one.

But we all managed to do it.

Ice cream helped.

L-R: Gloria, Mary, Shirley, Tina.

L-R: Gloria, Mary, Shirley, Tina. We’ve been friends for 53 years.

What are your three most cherished things?

Of course, you cherish your loved ones most, but

what about loved things?

Are all your things precious?

Or can you honestly say they are all expendable?

Do you find three things springing to mind right away? Or do only one or two strike you?

Are you willing to share them? 

I’d love to know what things are close to your heart and why, and I’ll tell you my three soon.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on May 19, 2019 at 1:08 am

    My loved ones (grandchildren, children, husband, siblings): They are in it with me, no matter what!
    My books: Can’t imagine life without the wisdom, knowledge, escape, joy, I get from what is between the covers.
    My plants: They are so easy to nurture and they give back so much!

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on May 19, 2019 at 1:12 am

    Oh, you said “things”, so I guess my third thing would be my photo albums and scrap books.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 19, 2019 at 8:14 pm

      As you illustrate, our precious things are mostly precious because of their connections to our loved ones. I am not surprised by any of these answers after reading your own stories, Elfrieda, but I am glad that your plants made it on to your list. I am gazing at my own right now with special fondness. 🙂

  3. Richard on May 19, 2019 at 7:38 am

    My books, car and bike. To be honest, I should add my iPad.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 19, 2019 at 8:16 pm

      Of course your books, bike, and iPad, Richard. But you have made me very curious about your car. It must be a Lancaster County, PA, thing for males of a certain age. 🙂 What makes your car precious, if I may ask?

      • Richard A Kauffman on May 20, 2019 at 1:20 pm

        I don’t have an attachment to a particular car. I’m just aware of how tied I am to having and driving a car as an American male. I wish it weren’t that way. I wish we lived in a part of Goshen where we could walk to quite a few places. I wish we had a good public transportation system in this county. Alas, my mobility is largely tied to a car.

        • Shirley on May 20, 2019 at 2:28 pm

          Thanks for the explanation, Richard. One of the interesting parts of this exercise is that different things matter to different people for different reasons. And if you are going to take all those books and a bike , you need a car! 🙂

  4. Melodie on May 19, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    My books, papers (including paper photos) computer.
    All of which take up too much of my time!
    I don’t think of dishes or art or clothes or furniture.
    An interesting exercise!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 19, 2019 at 8:20 pm

      Yes, it is surprising to look at an object and think, I am glad I have you in my life, but you don’t have as much claim to me or meaning to me as this other thing. You are the third person to name your books. And not just a special book, but all of them. I find that interesting too, Melodie.

  5. Marian Beaman on May 19, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    My glasses, books (Bible, diaries, non-digital albums) and Aunt Ruthie’s ornately framed needlepoint in our bedroom.

    One of our grandsons treasures old things. He has dibs on 1) crystal pitcher engraved with a “B” 2) blue velvet chair and 3) 200-year old dining room table.

    Your question gets to the heart of our priorities, Shirley.
    I await your choices!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 19, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Ha, what a good choice. Glasses. I would be lost without mine too. And those albums and diaries are absolutely essential to a memoir writer. I imagine your Bible to be all marked up, Marian. I love finding notes about sermons and conversations in the margins. Do you do that too? It is a habit I saw first in my mother.

      What does the needlepoint say?

  6. Donna Heatwole on May 19, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    All of my music (this includes CDs, printed music, and iPad and iPhone, where my music is stored)
    My family pictures
    The bed jacket that my mother wore in the hospital when I was born. I had it framed several years ago.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 19, 2019 at 9:10 pm

      “Music is not just what I do. It’s who I am.” I love this signature declaration in your email, Donna. And your response is totally consistent with that statement.

      The bed jacket is such an intriguing choice. A marvelous heirloom.

  7. Linda Hoye on May 20, 2019 at 9:41 am

    It’s an interesting question, and one I’ve been pondering as we’re in the cusp of another fire season here in British Columbia. I don’t have an answer yet, because the more I think about it the more I feel that it’s all replaceable or not as important as I once believed.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 9:53 am

      First of all, Linda, I hope that you and your beloved BC will not have to endure terrible fires this year. And that you will be able to live without undue anxiety. I can only imagine how unsettling massive fires can be.

      I know the feeling, the lightness of being, that comes from looking at things and realizing that things in general mean less than they used to or that one presumed.

      Keep pondering, however. It took me about a week to create my list. I have a feeling that when other people share their cherished irreplaceables, you may discover some of your own.

  8. Carol Bodensteiner on May 20, 2019 at 11:35 am

    As long as my family is safe, I can honestly say that the rest is all just stuff. I used to think that I’d need to be sure to grab my computer and flash drives, but with the cloud doing back up for me, even those are expendable. Yes, it would be an inconvenience to replace things, but only that.

    Having said that, things I’d like to save are items that connect me to people I love:
    1) A small painting my mother bought at Montmarte when she and Dad visited and we toured Paris when I was seven months pregnant. It reminds me of her love of flowers and her eye for enduring beauty.
    2) The grandma’s garden quilt my grandmother cut the pieces for, my mother saved in a trunk, and I hand quilted 100 years later.
    3) The breadboard my dad hand made for me when I first set up housekeeping, “Because everybody needs a breadboard.”

    If they were gone, I’d still hold the memories and their love in my heart. It’s enough.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 11:42 am

      Well, Carol, once you thought about it you certainly found some wonderful treasures to save! I wish the comment section could include photos, because I want to see all of these. You are fortunate to have items of beauty, frequent use, and story connected to three generations. I know your grandchildren will some day want these, or other, memories you are now preserving in spiritual, and sometimes physical, form.

  9. Laurie Buchanan on May 20, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Shirley — I can’t see without my GLASSES, so I’d grab those, and then my LAPTOP (which houses my current manuscript), and my CELL PHONE (so I could call the fire department). Those three items come after I’ve grabbed my husband, Len, and our precious pup, Willa.

    And if Richard gets to grab his CAR, I’m going to grab mine, too. Her name is Picco. She’s a feisty, itty-bitty Italian red, Fiat 500C Sport Hatchback and I adore her!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Ha, Laurie. You are never without a sense of humor, even in a fire! Good choices!

      I remember seeing Picco in one of your past blog posts. I was a little envious, seeing that I had that Studebaker convertible long ago and cars have potential for romance ever since. Keep driving toward the conclusion of your present book. Your pace as a writer amazes me. Words on FIRE!

  10. Joan Z. Rough on May 20, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    The first things I’d grab are my dog, Max, my cat Lilli, and the love of my life, Bill. I can’t imagine a life without them. If I had more time I’d take family photos, and my favorite books. I’ve already downsized twice and it looks like it may happen one more time. “Things” become what we thought we needed and now we can live without. The things I would take me are all about LOVE!

    • Shirley on May 20, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Joan, you have played a modified version of this game by downsizing, but you are crystal clear about the loves of your life and how all things are important only in relation to their supreme presence. Yes to the love connection, and I hope you get to enjoy your new space without too much more change”.

  11. DDF on May 20, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    If my house were on fire?

    Gosh, I don’t know. I guess maybe my smartphone, my laptop (and chargers, hopefully) and a good pair of shoes. The phone and laptop have almost all my information. I know I only get 3, but I’d probably “cheat” and grab a couple of apples out of the fruit bowl as I raced out the burning house. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      Don, you would be already to start life over again. If you don’t grab those apples, they will soon turn into fritters!

  12. Rachel Miller on May 20, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Since I would have to go down the fire escape, I’m keeping it simple.

    Purse, it has a lot of info., in it, glasses, etc,



    I live by myself and all my things can be replaced. I have hundreds of books on my Kindle so they are in the cloud.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 9:18 pm

      This is what is called an exit strategy, Rachel. I hope you never have to use it, but it is freeing, isn’t it, to know that stuff is just stuff.

      Thanks for playing.

  13. Linda Gartz on May 20, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    The thing I treasure most (not human) is my the collection of a century’s worth of family letters, diaries, photos, documents, etc. but it all fills 25 bankers’ boxes, so I couldn’t possibly get it all out in time! That’s why I have to get it all to this research library in Chicago, the Newberry Library. Beyond that, I have some wonderful art I also couldn’t possibly carry out. I have jewelry that’s not all that expensive, but often carries deep memories, and I could carry that.
    I think it’s my computer that’s most valuable of “things” because it has everything I’ve written, family notes, photos – everything. I have a back-up but I should (and everyone should) have one off-site. But then it has to be updated. So many things take our time, it would be hard to get to, but now that I’ve identified it, I’m going to put a back-up off-site. Thank you, Shirley, for giving me this nudge to think about how important all the history contained on my computer is!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 21, 2019 at 8:14 am

      I’m always happy when a post has a good influence in someone’s life, Linda. So I hope you do even more for your computer security soon.

      I had to smile, remembering how I placed a copy of my doctoral dissertation in the freezer. That was the advice to grad students about security of years of work back in the day before computers!

      You have been such a worthy trustee of your family’s stories and treasures. I am so glad the Newberry is accepting them. I have a relationship to three different archives for family papers and my own. Helps us appreciate the existence of these great institutions, doesn’t it?

      Love your comments here and on Facebook. Your commitment to lives from African American history and literature is a wonderful way to leave a legacy for future generations.

  14. Elaine Mansfield on May 21, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Is my dog a thing? Not to me! I’ll get her out first.
    All Vic’s slides are in notebooks on one book shelf and my history is in those still not digitalized slides. I’d grab a few of those notebooks–better yet to focus on getting them digitalized fairly soon.
    My books can be replaced. My writing backups are automatically backed up and stored off site as well as on site every day. A few important papers like the deed to the property and land trust agreement are in a fireproof box, so maybe I’ll need to grab a photograph Vic took in India of a naked child crossing the threshold of the simple home with her mother watching her. For me, an image of Divine Mother. (In truth, I’ll be thinking all day about the third thing, because I’m not sure. Maybe I need ice cream.)

    • Shirley Showalter on May 22, 2019 at 7:51 am

      Elaine, the thing that struck me most about your thoughts to date was that they illustrate the relationship of things to loved ones — in your case, your love of Vic. That photo Vic took connects you to his artistic eye and to your belief in a Divine Mother. As a fan of your writing and TEDX talk, I have witnessed the transmission of that spirit in your work.

      I believe you convinced yourself to make digitizing those slides a priority. I encourage you to do so.I went through several thousand slides a few years ago, threw many away. For our anniversary this year, I commissioned a video made from all our honeymoon slides, digitized and set to music by my nephew (my webmaster also). The video is preserved on YouTube and offsite with my nephew. If the rest go up in smoke, nothing my children need will be lost. They have their own scrapbooks from childhood. I tossed all vacation slides and landscapes. Saved only pictures of people. One of the things I learned was that the ones that show our daily lives — the interiors with ordinary objects from another time were often the most interesting.

      Do have an ice cream. Better yet, an ice cream party after the slides are digitized. 🙂 Then maybe you will know what your third thing is.

  15. susan scott on May 22, 2019 at 5:47 am

    I’m glad I read some of the comments Shirley because the first thing would be my specs! As to other specs – I recon my Ipad and wallet containing ID, credit card and some hard cash. Hopefully I’d have a lipstick in my pocket 🙂 – and if large enough pockets, a paperback. I’m assuming that my husband and cat are not included in ‘things’! Shew, this really gave me a brain work out …

    • Shirley Showalter on May 22, 2019 at 7:54 am

      Thanks for the morning chuckle, Susan, and for checking in. You would be all set to start over after a fire. And I know you would do it in style with that lipstick!

  16. Andrea Reynolds on May 22, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    My little blue 2004 camper van, “The Magic Bus”, because if there were a fire and I lost everything I’d be able to live in it and still have a home.
    My framed baby shirt of John Quincy Adams that I inherited from my mother, the antiques dealer.
    My grandmother’s silver fruit bowl from Tiffany’s circa 1899, inherited via my father.
    I must soon sell the latter two because I have no heirs.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 23, 2019 at 7:25 am

      Andrea, you are prepared wherever you go with that “Magic Bus.” Must give you a real sense of security — a little like a turtle that wears its own house?

      Those two heirlooms are just the kind of irreplaceable item the question intends to uncover.

      “I have no heirs.”

      Those words touch me and give me pause. I wonder if now could be a time for you to think about a redefinition of “heir.” Unless you need the money from these items, can you find just the right person or institution to inherit them? That shirt, for example? There are living descendants of JQA. And the birthplace in Quincy would surely appreciate a (tax deductible, I imagine) gift. https://www.nps.gov/adam/planyourvisit/index.htm

      The fruit bowl sounds like the perfect gift to give to a friend or mentor who has the greatest appreciation for history and beauty.

      But here I am, a stranger, offering ideas. Take only what is useful. These are YOUR three things!

      • Andrea Reynolds on May 23, 2019 at 11:39 am

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Shirley. I especially liked your ideas about where the JQA baby shirt may be received.

        Your use of the word “turtle” was perfect. My van has what they call a turtle top. It’s the cover photo on my Facebook page.

        I will sell my two heirlooms, and my house, as soon as I can, and for as much as I can. I turn 70 in July and won’t be eligible for retirement benefits until I’m 78, at the earliest. I gave up everything in Canada to take care of a dying parent in Pennsylvania. My tiny Canadian pension will only allow me to become another “Lady in the Van.” (A film that resonated with me.)

        My current “assignment” is to earn enough money through speaking, consulting, and selling my how-to ebooks, to reduce the selling price of my bungalow (Author’s Guest House) to $99, which is what I paid for it 6 years ago. I’ve been homeless before; this time I will be merely house-less. And I will be free to write more books, including my memoir.

  17. Norah Johnson Wolthuis on May 23, 2019 at 12:28 am

    1. I need my glasses, but I’m willing to bargain.
    2. My red tabby monster kitten; it would be cruel to leave an animal.
    3. My iPad which holds all family pictures for several generations, a photo record of all the quilts and decorated cookies I’ve ever made and a list of my favorite books.
    4. ( There go the glasses) A beat up first edition of Jonas Lie’s Weird Tales From Northern Seas given to me. by my beloved father for Christmas one year from his own library.

  18. Carol Warner on May 23, 2019 at 4:42 am

    1. I would want to keep a flute to play music. 2. I would keep jewelry to wear, not because mine is of any value, but because each piece reminds me of a person or place.
    3. I would keep a kaleidoscope to remind me that many broken pieces can combine to make something of beauty.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 23, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Of course you would keep a flute, Carol. I imagine you have a favorite one. You are such a gifted musician!

      Yes to jewelry and its power to combine emotion, beauty, human, and physical form.

      I just love the idea of a kaleidoscope and its symbolic role in your life.

      Thank you for this image. I will think about it all day.

  19. Sherrey Meyer on May 24, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    After ruminating on your question for a couple of days, I’ve decided on the following:
    (1) I’d take Maggie, our tuxedo kitty, and Bob would bring Iggy, our black “stray.”
    (2) I’d bring my laptop to salvage all the family images stored there as well as my writing productivity.
    (3) Lastly, my flute for music since it’s so much smaller than Bob’s great-grandparents piano.

  20. Shirley Showalter on May 24, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    Sherry, I’m glad you have a portable instrument and don’t have to drag out that piano. Our daughter and her husband purchased a Steinway upright and wow it was impressive to see how it got moved!

    Your kitties sound adorable. I know they must be precious to you as you spend so much time indoors recuperating.

    Still have you on my prayer list!

  21. […] ← Three Things Most Cherished: A Spiritual Exercise in Material FormIn Defense of Iowa Caucuses and an Explanation for Mayor Pete’s Popularity Among Seniors → […]

  22. Kimberley Taylor on November 11, 2020 at 7:38 am

    The first would be my ring that I wear round my neck and never take off. It has a connection to my partner and is a way of keeping her close to my heart. The second thing I would save would be either my nans jumper or her book that she left to me when she passed. The third would have to be my laptop as it contains all my photos some of which I don’t have copies of.

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