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Memories in a Jar

Why do we save certain objects, but not others? Over our short lifetime, we thin out and discard oodles of items, but there are those that never quite make it into the trash.

For example: I have kept a small glass jar with a blue scratched-up lid that says


White Petroleum Jelly

On the side of the cap, you can still read the words “First Aid Kit in a Jar.”

This little jar has followed me from residence to residence since 1957, when I was 12 years old. It has been to England where my dad had his first assignment with the American Consulate, to Argentina, where I graduated from an international high school, to Iowa where I went to college, and to all the places I lived as a young married woman: Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio and finally Wisconsin.

It still sits in my medicine cabinet today. Of course, the original petroleum jelly is long gone, and I replenish the little jar with a few tablespoons from my large economy size plastic jar of Vaseline.

In 1957, when I purchased this small container, my family lived in Maryland and my father commuted to Washington, D.C. We knew we would be in Maryland for only a year, while my dad trained to be a Foreign Service Officer, so our lives felt unsettled.

I just finished sixth grade, but I had a boyfriend. Brian and I had been an “item” since February, when he brought me a huge box of Valentine chocolates, and confessed he discovered where I lived by following me home from school. I was dizzy with shock and happiness. He was tall for a 12 year old, blond, and regarded as a leader at our elementary school.

That summer, he rode his bike to my house frequently. He was often on his way to a Little League baseball game, and looked very handsome in his white and red uniform. He was proud of his red Schwinn bicycle, with his baseball glove hanging from the handlebars.

If he didn’t have a game, we sat on the grassy hill in my back yard and he identified cars driving past for me. I knew nothing about cars. I was impressed by his ability to tell one car from another by its fins and hood ornaments. We had a tire swing hanging from a tree, and he pushed me on it. I don’t remember him ever coming inside the house.

One time, we went to a party with two other “couples.” We were in the basement rec room and the parents were in and out frequently. In my diary I wrote, “We danced all night and came home at 10:00.” Funny, I didn’t think I knew how to dance at that age.

I remember Brian invited me to go to the movies, too, with another “couple,” but my mother said I couldn’t go. We never even held hands. My mother had cautioned me against doing anything that would make “the neighbors talk.”

On a summer afternoon, Brian and I walked about two miles to the local Woolworth’s and I bought the little jar of Vaseline with some of my babysitting money. It was my first purchase of “makeup.” “Seventeen” magazine claimed Vaseline was a good way to make your eyelashes look long and shiny.

I can see us now, walking in an unhurried fashion to the store, chatting as we ambled along the roadway, since there were no sidewalks. I wore shorts and a sleeveless shirt that buttoned up the front. There was no awkward feeling. It felt natural to be together. How I wish I could listen in on that conversation now. I wonder what we talked about.

In addition to purchasing the jar of Vaseline, Brian and I sat at the Woolworth counter and ordered something to drink. Maybe it was Cokes, or maybe it was a chocolate milkshake. I weighed 98 pounds then, and didn’t think anything about drinking a milkshake.

At home, I brushed my eyelashes with Vaseline. A couple of months later, we left for England and I said good-bye to Brian. I remember standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek and his blue eyes were locked on mine for a long time, but no words were spoken.

I still have my little Vaseline jar. I don’t really know why I have kept it all these years. How about you? Is there something in your home you have kept, for no apparent reason? Do you have a “first love” that is a precious memory to you?

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