Walking into my kitchen and dining room is a little like stepping into a time warp. The walls are lined with 45s, a jukebox lights up a corner of the room and an original 1950s Coca-Cola vending machine sits next to the 50s style diner set. It’s a 50s diner scene from the ceiling right down to the black and white checkered floor. Most of it is new, reproductions of the originals, smooth and polished like the originals were 60 years ago. This is partially because, like most people, I can’t afford the originals, but it’s also because the clean shiny things are what the perfectionist in me likes to see when I walk in the room.
But my favorite piece in the room is far from perfect.
You might think it’s my favorite because it’s an original, straight from the 50s with decades of history, but it isn’t. My mom and I bought it in the 90s, and it hung on my bedroom wall waiting for the day I finally had my dream diner-style kitchen. It was perfectly smooth, not a chip in the vibrant red paint, not even the tiniest dent or scratch. Until May 3rd of 1999.
That night, our home, and the majority of the town, was completely destroyed by a massive tornado. When we emerged from the old sandstone cellar we took shelter in, this is the view that greeted us:
There were a few walls left standing, but everything on them was gone, ripped into the sky along with the roof. Photos, paintings, everything you hold dear enough to display, gone without a trace. Everything, that is, except that Coca-Cola sign on my bedroom wall. It had been hit hard with debris, dented and mangled and punched straight into the sheetrock. When we took it down, it left a perfect circle cut into the wall where it had hung for several years.
When I finally got my dream kitchen, the first thing I hung up was that sign. It’s far from perfect, it’s smashed, it’s faded, and it hangs a little crooked on the wall, but oh does it have character. If it could speak, I can only imagine the story it would tell about the night it rode out that tornado. So while it’s a little worn and weathered, I still have it hanging up. It means a lot to me and it reminds me to appreciate the things I have while I still have them.
I’m sure we all have things like that. But the sign is just that, a thing, a piece of metal that can’t say a word. I value it, nonetheless. But last week, as I sat at my kitchen table with that sign hanging right behind me, I was listening to my mom tell a story. I suddenly found myself hanging on every word, trying to make a mental recording of it so I’d never forget, even years from now when she isn’t here to tell me again. There are so many things my grandparents talked about when I was younger that I’d give anything to hear again, stories of my grandpa’s time in WWII, memories of raising my parents, and recipes for chicken and noodles and fried pies. All things I value greatly as an adult, but never knew how important it was to remember when I heard them as a child.
Whatever your “sign” is, that worn and weathered thing that you value, I hope that when you look at it you are reminded to value the people around you even more, to take the time to listen to their stories and soak them in as though your life depended on it. One day, your “sign” may end up gone with the wind, but those memories will last you a lifetime.