5 Surprising Objects With Sentimental Value
By Roxana Robinson
The summer when I was seven, we lived on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. My parents were directing a Quaker work camp, and the high school students in the camp were helping to put up a community building. I spent the days on my own, swimming in the cold brown creek that ran behind the camp or walking the paths into the mountains. Along the creek were high smooth stones, and in the streambed curves were wide sandy shoals, where flocks of butterflies lit, their wings breathing slowly, open and shut. The paths were narrow and smooth, dark earth pounded by bare feet. They led back through the hollows and up onto the steep mountain shoulders. It was a beautiful place, glorious with woods and silence.
My mother loved wild places. She made friends with the Cherokees who lived on the steep wooded hillsides, and one evening she invited a medicine man to come and talk by the fire at the camp. I remember the darkness around us all, the firelight on our faces, and his gestures as he spoke.
There was a Cherokee celebration in nearby Asheville that summer, and it was the only time we left the reservation. In the evening there was a pageant showing the history of the Cherokee nation: a huge radiant stage, actors in feathers and deerskin. At an arts-and-crafts exhibition, my mother bought a small carved wooden deer. The deer has slender, exquisite legs and delicate pointed ears. It’s made of a hard, smooth, pale wood—maybe poplar? The sleek flanks, the long legs, the fine head, and the elegant contours show a deep awareness of a doe’s body.
At the end of the summer, my mother brought the carving back to our house in Pennsylvania. For decades it stood on the mantelpiece in my parents’ bedroom, miraculously unbroken. A few years ago, when the house was sold, I took the deer. I had been there when she bought it, and I remembered the way the deer embodied that summer: the dense green of the mountainsides, the steep earthen paths, the cold brown creek.
I brought the carving to Connecticut, to the summer house I inherited from my mother, and which she loved. Now the deer is on the mantelpiece, in the bedroom that was once my parents’ and is now my husband’s and mine. She stands quietly, one foot forward, her ears swiveled, listening, her tail down, calm, alert. That’s what I’d like to keep.
Roxana Robinson is the author of Cost ($15, amazon.com), A Perfect Stranger ($19, amazon.com), and six other books.