A personal inspiration


A few feet away from me rests a bottle.

It’s been the source of my focus for the past fifteen minutes.

I’m actually sitting at the desk in my office. Surrounding me are all sorts of trinkets and memorabilia of special meaning. Items I’ve purchased on travels, received as gifts from friends, and photographs of all kind would be one attempt at descriptions that simply and fairly cover virtually all of them.

A handful of people might say tchotchkes and attempt to leave it at that. But there’s something about that term that doesn’t seem to really capture it. Instead, it simplifies them, and in many ways, devalues them.

The bottle is what some might recognize as a classic milk bottle. Glass. Somewhat squared, somewhat rectangular, definitely boxy. Half-gallon. More specifically, it is a milk bottle. Comes from Byrne Dairy, and when it arrived in my home it was filled with some of the most delicious chocolate milk in the world.

On the shelf of my office, though empty of the milk and cleaned, it is now filled with quite a bit more.

It is symbolic of the place where I have spent a fair amount of my life, as both a student and as a resident. A solid, classic, regional business, immediately recognized by everyone in the area.

It contains memories beyond compare. I can still picture my roommates and I, heading out on the weekly drives to pick up milk for our apartment—regular and occasionally chocolate as a treat back then, for the budget conscious students—with the added bonus of our journey being a box of cookies.

It represents a connection, and unspoken understanding. On their first visit to our new home, one of my old roommates and his wonderful wife arrived with two things: (1) their new puppy, and (2) a half-gallon of chocolate milk in a glass container. They know me… they know us… so well.

Initially, this evening, the bottle just caught my eye. No specific reason for it. I just saw it. And my first reaction was to wonder if we had any chocolate milk in the fridge. And then the tangents began…

I’m hitting a certain birthday this year, and my incredible wife is working on some of the details to celebrate it. Circumstances prevent her from being completely secretive in her plans, so there are a few things that I already know. And one of them is that, for the first time in two decades, there is likely going to be an evening when my closest friends from school and their significant others will all be together at the same time.

That visit… that puppy and a bottle visit. Molly and Gus were still roaming our hallways at the time, and the introductions of those three dogs was a treasure of interactions that you dream of witnessing.

Friendship. Puppies. Family. We can move along after acknowledging it’s more than a bottle.

On the same shelf as that bottle is a bank, a dolphin bank, from a family trip. Nearby is the creature from the imagination of a childhood friend, produced during some special school projects and gifted to me. Copies of the first books ever to publish my writing (which was poetry, if anyone is interested in such a fact). Bank… Kroloid… books… the youngest of the batch arrived in 1989.

Trips to Disney World, New York City, Seattle, Australia and more are pictured on the wall. Drawings and artwork and… and… and a poster, from college, with the tagline: “Your student fee saving lives.”

Capturing stories and important moments, accomplishments and fascinations.

And more.

On many levels, it’s all chocolate milk. Right? Personal tastes. Items that, for anyone else, could never hold the same significance. Items that require a certain taste, a certain craving, a certain preference. And yet…

These are the same items you have in your home. No, not the centerpiece from my wedding cake. Not specifically the exact items. Ones that have an importance to you for a variety of reasons.

For me, brought together and on display, they are walls of imagination and inspiration. In several ways, they provide me with a sense of comfort that I could have days in the future as significant as so many I’ve had already. They are reminders of people and places and…

On one shelf sits a book. The best guess I can offer to date it is 1972, but from the cover through the first few pages it’s worn and tattered and difficult to be certain. It’s an Arrow Street Guide for cities in Rhode Island. It belonged to my grandfather and was always in his car.

I could tell you about how, when I went to school and drove an ambulance, having held this very street guide gave me just a bit of a sense of familiarity when I was handed a similar book for the area we served. I could attempt to make some connection to finding my way through life—yesterday, today and tomorrow—using the items that reside next to it in the office. I could consider how times have changed and paperback street guides are a bit lost in today’s world.

Instead, I’m going to take a few moments to head off into a tangent of my own, and let seeing that book lead me into some thoughts about the kindest man I’ve ever known. (And maybe go find a glass of chocolate milk.)


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com