Tchotchkes

I’ve always been a collector.  The first things I remember collecting were trolls.  Does anyone else remember those?  Those little plastic guys with round bellies and wild neon colored hair that stuck straight up from their heads—I would always have two or three of them sitting on the starting block at the end of the pool for good luck.  From there it was Breyer horses of the earliest generation—blacks and bays and dappled greys, and then after that came the “fruit loops” from my sixth grade boyfriend’s collared button down shirts—those little loops of fabric at the back of the yoke that, if yanked hard enough, would come right out.  This habit did not endear me to his mother.  My grandmother would call these collections my “tchotchkes”, which is the Yiddish word for trinkets or baubles, but this did not discourage me from my efforts, which included an obsession with acquiring a key chain from every state in the Union.  I was nothing if not determined.

As I grew older my tastes changed, and the collections grew to include art, and vintage beaded handbags from the 20’s, and colorful silk scarves. I bought my first Hermes scarf in Paris in 1978—it was so beautiful I decided I could never wear it and it still sits unworn today in its original orange and brown box, brown Canadian geese flying across a silvery full moon, someday to be stretched across a wooden frame and hung on a wall—a reminder of a different time and world and place.  More recently the objects of my treasure hunts have been Victorian brooches, specifically Scottish silver and the multicolored agates that Queen Victoria herself favored, secured sternly at the base of her starched white collar edged with demure lace at the very high neckline.

The most fabulous, eclectic and strange collection of all, however, is the one consisting of the small tokens of appreciation my patients have given me over a thirty year career in medicine. These things I have carted with me from state to state, job to job, desk to desk—water from Lourdes, sand from the Holy Land, tiny stuffed bears wearing doctor’s white coats with head mirrors on, and stethoscopes.  I have a rosary from Mexico, and a small wood carving of Jesus on his cross from the Vatican, and angels of every size and shape and material (which is flattering even if I am somewhat less than angelic), and I have more Christmas ornaments, some homemade from painted pasta shells, than any Jewish girl in her right mind could ever want.  My patients have brought me tiny replicas of the pyramids from Egypt, made of black slate with hieroglyphics etched in gold, and enamel shamrocks and a claddagh door knocker from Ireland, and a string of pure malachite beads from Jordan. And they have brought me rocks of every size and color and variety because they figured out a long time ago that I love sparkly things that I can hold in my hands.  These are my memories, and my treasures, and the things I will never leave behind.

I am counting down the days until the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral show, where I go each year with my friends Rachel and Judy—to buy more rocks and little things that sparkle of course.  My Nana may have called them tchotchkes, but I call them magical.  I tell the vendors that I want to see moonstones and citrines because they have healing powers, and I am a doctor.

They always give me a discount.