The souvenir is one of the most coveted takeaways from a vacation, the material proof that yes, I was there. But far more than that, a souvenir is a vessel for a memory, something to be uncovered from time to time to return you for a moment to those tropical sands or spectacular icy climbs. While I prefer to stray from the normal tourist path, I do have a soft spot for souvenirs.
My mom introduced me to pin collecting in the 90s on a trip to Arizona. Pins are the perfect souvenirs: beautiful, inexpensive, and so easy to pack in a backpack and bring home. The best part about them is that they depict very specific memories, which can all be placed together for a quick trip down Memory Lane.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated over 400 pins, which is far from the largest collection (Arvind Sinha in Mumbai has the record for over 18,000), but this small gallery of memories has endured longer than any postcards and stayed out of storage longer than any other souvenir I’ve collected over the years.
I have a few favorites. There’s a 1994 Franklin Quest Field Buzz Baseball Pin from the days of elementary school field trips to Franklin Quest Field (The field hasn’t been Franklin Quest since 1997 and the team hasn’t been the Buzz since 2000).
I have a Leipzig pin from meeting my friend in Germany, pins purchased after Grandma fell off a train in Italy, and a gorgeous depiction of the Lighthouse at the End of the World.
Last night, my boyfriend contributed his award pins for 4-H, for safekeeping and to get them out of an obscure drawer and into the light. Because, darn it, he earned those awards, and they should be seen.
But I’m proudest of my Olympic collection. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and the 2002 Winter Olympic torch ran by my middle school. The Olympics are a pin trader’s paradise, because they draw pin collectors and pin traders from all over the world. You can go buy a couple spare pins from the stores and trade them for pins from Australia or the UK or Japan. They give a glimpse into local culture (the green Jell-O and fry sauce pins were the most popular of all) and leave room for questions: What is that? Where did that come from? What does it mean to you?
I’m not saying that collecting pins will set the whole world right, but it is a collecting hobby that encourages the exploration of new lands and new cultures, and the sharing of that knowledge with others.
Got a pin that you don’t have room for? I’m taking submissions.