A friend and I were talking about books this morning and she mentioned a new memoir she is reading called The Happiness Project. Turns out, it’s a book about a year the author spent exploring happiness. She recounts her daily adventures in pursuit of happiness and includes lots of suggestions for boosting happiness in life. She makes the point that one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; and one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself. After a year of exploration, she found that “Happiness comes not from having more, not from having less, but from wanting what you have.”
It got me thinking about things that make me happy in life. One of those is collecting. I actually collect many different things (like crosses and dragonflies) but most of my collections are small and aren’t things I actually use, but that I simply enjoy. I love to collect things that conjure memories of people or places I’ve been. They aren’t expensive collectibles, like Faberge eggs or Herend figurines, they are simple things that remind me of happy times gone by and people I’ve loved along the way.
I have had a thing for pretty, sweet smelling soap for a long time. The odd thing is, I don’t like to use bar soap myself — I prefer liquid shower gel. Several years ago, I went to Europe with some friends. Kim, who organized the trip, gave the group great tips on buying souvenirs and told us to be sure to stock up on the French milled soaps in Paris. You can buy beautiful soaps inexpensively in pharmacies there, which are on every corner and marked by big green neon crosses. I had a wonderful time scouting for luxurious soaps, like Roger & Gallet, and brought back lots of bars for gifts and for myself. Since then, I have gotten several pretty bars from friends too and love to show them off in the bathroom where they smell so good! My favorite bars are the ones with pretty wrappers too.
Why would a girl who isn’t a great cook collect cookbooks? It’s the pictures that I love, and the stories that they tell. I particularly love regional cookbooks. Every community cookbook I have tells something about the people who live there and the spirit of the place. Some of my favorites are Bullies Best from Starkville, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, Being Dead is No Excuse, Come on In, and the NAJA cookbook Silver Spoons – Blueberry Afternoons. When I worked at Ole Miss for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, I was involved in the very beginning stages of developing the cookbook A Gracious Plenty, and it is one of my favorites, as much for the stories as the recipes.
Another of my favorite cookbooks is by a friend, Rose Dorchuck, who served Junior Auxiliary on the national level in many roles through the years. She was best loved, however, as chief cook. At every NAJA meeting she attended, she brought goodies to snack on or prepared full meals for us. Rose owned Cafe on the Square in Kosciusko, MS, and had been cooking all her life when she wrote the recipes down to share with friends and customers through her cookbook. Rose is gone now, but looking through the pages of her cookbook makes me feel close to her again. One of my favorite things she brought to our NAJA meetings was her Banana Pudding which was as good as anything I’ve ever eaten. I’m not a big fan of pasta salad, but Rose had a way of making it that won me over – everything she cooked was that way!
From the days of Youth Congress back in high school, I’ve collected gavels. I have several that are very old and some that are just decorative. The ones I love most are the ones from Mississippi Youth Congress where I had the privilege to serve as Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate. They remind me of mentors like Andy Jones and Judy Lewis, who were instrumental in helping me grow and achieve many dreams. They remind me too of my mother, who was the greatest speech teacher Mississippi ever saw. She taught at South Pike High School for 35 years and took teams of students to Youth Congress for most of those years. I have gavels that remind me of Kissimmee Social Tribe, the McComb Garden Club, Junior Auxiliary. All wonderful experiences for me full of great memories.
When I was growing up, my grandmother gave my mom and my Aunt Lane a Royal Copenhagen Christmas plate every year. A few years ago, mom divided her collection between me and my sister and I’ve added to it over the years. It reminds me of the years when we spent Christmas Eve in Georgetown with my grandparents. Grandmother was famous, not just for the Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates she gave each year, but for the $100 bills she passed out to her family on Christmas morning. She was a school teacher and cashed her “13th check” to give each of us a crisp $100 bill. We could hardly wait until she pulled out the little bank envelopes that we knew had our names written on them! She lived to be over 90 years old and these Christmas plates, with their pine borders and beautiful winter scenes, will always make me think of her (and those $100 bills).
My collections make me happy. Not for their value or because of the usefulness of the simple items, but for the memories they conjure. As I walk through my house and see these things, I remember the people I have loved and the good times we have spent together. That’s what happiness is all about, isn’t it? It’s not about looking for things that can make us happy, it’s about finding happiness in what we already have and in memories of people and times we’ve loved.