Monday, March 15, 2010


Today I fingered my keychain as I got in my car. It has been slowly growing as to number of keys. I've even indulged in a little faux-key that is really a tiny pocket knife. I used to hate having to carry too many keys. I would make keychains that pulled apart so I could travel light. But after several instances of not having a key on me when I needed it, I accepted that the locks and locations in my life need for me to have the keys on hand.

When I was a kid, I had a cigar box full of keys. To me, it was a wondrous collection. I enjoyed having them in that box, and I would go through them from time to time.  I think many of them came from my dad, perhaps from locks he no longer had, or houses we no longer lived in.

 I would add to the collection, usually from finding a cast off key in the street somewhere. There was a sense of loss when I came upon a lost key, at least a sense that the owner had suffered a loss--what would they do without it? It represented access to a unique location, a door or a chest or something that needed to be locked. And unlocked.

I knew that each key was unique, that a key only fit a certain lock. Sometimes I would line them up with each other, looking for keys that were cut alike. The different shapes of the heads of the keys were something I could arrange in groups. I preferred brass, and liked the Lego-like jagged edges of some keys over the smallish Kwikset pattern with it's Volkswagen "VW"-like cutout. Skeleton keys for old mortised locks held extra charm. From their bony name, and from the idea that many of them would fit a wide number of door locks. The elusive "Master" key was a tantalizing concept.  Once I'd outgrown wanting to be a trash collector, I harbored visions of becoming a locksmith. (the garbagemen in our neighborhood frolicked with early morning raccoons, and hung in daredevil fashion from their awesome truck. Didn't you want to be a trash collector? I thought everybody did.)

The weight of my box of keys felt like a stash of coins. I may have had the idea that at some juncture, a lock somewhere would need unlocking, and maybe, just maybe,  I would have the key to fit. I did like to be prepared for anything, but never was asked to produce such a key.

There were several personal additions to the box.  Keys from bike locks I had lost,  and old skate keys.  Or more poignantly,  from houses I had moved from.  I had moved some 3,000 miles when I was nine, across an ocean.  I would revisit particular old house keys with a feeling of sentimentality. Those house keys were a touchstone to my former homes.

 I have a lockbox on my office shelf now, that holds the keys to houses in other states, houses for which I still have active ties. Somehow the keys in the lockbox are less alluring; they represent responsibility.  My treasure box of keys seemed to represent possibility more than anything else.

When the day finally came that I no longer saw the need to keep that cigar box of keys,  I was somewhat at a loss for what to do with them.  I didn't need to worry about keeping them secure, they were obsolete. But as I grew older and acquired more things, it seemed silly to keep them around.

 I reluctantly threw them in the trash. I wonder what the garbageman thought when he saw them.

No comments:

Post a Comment