Toward the end of a beach vacation my family took when I was a kid, my parents let me pick out a souvenir at one of those overstuffed shops designed to help travelers remember the locations they visit by stocking up on shot glasses and refrigerator magnets made in China.
I chose a set of three 2.5-inch-tall sea captains carved from wood. All three bearded figures look like Ernest Hemingway, and each has the same pose: standing with his hands in his pockets.
But their outfits are different. One wears his full dress uniform, another has on a yellow rain slicker, and the third sports a casual look, with red suspenders over a blue-and-white striped shirt.
Maybe all three are supposed to be the same guy at varying times, but if that’s so, then how come the relaxing captain has a gray beard but the other two have white ones? I’ve always preferred instead to think of the trio as three brothers with easily defined roles—ringleader, fusspot, and slacker. Sort of like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Or the Holy Trinity.
In any case, I loved the captains at first sight and had to have them, even though the beach vacation in question took place on the Florida Panhandle, and the figures are clearly New Englanders.
So the souvenir doesn’t do a great job of commemorating that trip. But what can I say? I craved seamen from an early age.
Nowadays I don’t have much interest in souvenirs. Who needs the clutter?
I’ll tell you who: my husband, Frank. We can’t go on a vacation without his picking up some little knickknack or piece of wall art or decorative bottle of whatever cough-syrupy liqueur the destination claims as its national drink. And then we’re apparently expected to hold onto these items for the rest of our lives.
Sometimes when the shop clerk is wrapping up Frank’s purchase, I’ll get this image of myself in the future as Mother Courage dragging her enormous covered wagon, only it’s stuffed full of tiny replicas of the world’s noteworthy landmarks and dusty decorative bottles encasing the now semisolid remains of various national drinks, congealed over the decades into a collection of infernal Jell-O shots that come in only one flavor: sticky brown.
Frank also buys souvenirs for his mom back in Chicago as well as for other relatives, friends, and coworkers. I suppose this is because exchanging gifts is his Love Language—the method by which he expresses love and feels it in return.
He once took an online test that confirmed the diagnosis. What that means for me, as his partner, is that I’m supposed to give him super-unique, super-considerate gifts on special occasions and at any other times I want to let him know that I love him.
The super-uniqueness and super-considerateness are key because with this Love Language it’s not the cost of the gift that matters but the amount of care taken in coming up with the gift. It’s truly the thought that counts.
Which is a shame because if I had it my way we’d rarely exchange gifts. Who needs the clutter?
According to the same online quiz, my Love Language is quality time, which seems to me the superior option. To show me love, you don’t have to buy me stuff or tell me how great I am or get me a glass of water or suck my dick (those are the other Love Languages, as I understand them); you just have to put down your goldarn phone once in a while and hang out with me.
Far be it from me to tell anybody how to give and receive affection, but quality time is clearly the Esperanto of Love Languages—i.e., our best hope for fostering world peace and universal understanding.
Then again, a souvenir is a kind of gift meant to recall quality time. I guess that’s why I’ve kept for so long my three mini mariners, who somehow bring me northwest Florida’s powdered-sugar beaches, fried shrimp purveyors, and go-kart tracks across a sea of forgetting.
So while receiving gifts isn’t my own Love Language, I will acknowledge that some tchotchkes speak volumes.