In the United States, souvenir collecting dates back to the mid-1800s (the first American souvenir spoon, produced in the late 1800s, featured George Washington’s profile). By the time the Chicago World’s Fair arrived, in 1893, with its 27 million visitors, spoon collecting had become a pastime. It’s impossible to say what people who collected spoons thought a century ago, but I like to imagine that it was also a form of ambitious travel back then, carried out with gifts from friends and family. Perhaps those armchair travelers were perhaps no different from the toddler waiting at home for her spoon and for the world to unfold through the magic of finely etched silver or nickel. I felt then, as now, that these spoons, with their careful embellishments, displayed a level of artistry that other keepsakes could not match. I loved the scalloped edges on the Windsor Spoon and the car on top of the Detroit one — details that brought me joy in a way a gift shop shirt or bottle filled with pink sand from a tropical beach never did.
From 1988 to 1998, I flew every two weekends between Boston’s Logan Airport and New York’s LaGuardia, a set route dictated by divorce. Added up, this amounted to approximately 108,000 total miles flown, without a single spoon purchased from either airport. Instead, I have spoons from other places, living the life of one parent or the other.
I recently rediscovered my spoon collection, on the heels of a move. They were still in their cabinets, which were never quite right, so I ordered the right one with attached notches, designed just for them. A long time ago, when my father delivered these spoons to me, he promised, as I saw it, something – that we would see these places together. In the end I promised something in return.
My father retired at age 54 with the intention of traveling the world. He was diagnosed with ALS at age 55; by 57, he was dead. In the last weeks of his life, I asked him to tell me about the places on his bucket list. By then we both knew he would never see the Canadian Rockies, the cliffs of Ireland, the beautiful green-lipped seas of New Zealand. Not long after his death, I booked a solo flight to Auckland – a destination he showed me on the computer after speech became impossible. I brought his ashes. I didn’t buy a spoon.