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Mustela erminea, or the weasel with the raggedy tail

The Youngest Member loves an ermine. It’s a stuffie toy, made by the Fuzzy Town people, white and cute with a little black tip to the tail. The tail is important. Well, ermine tails are important; it’s how you know they are ermines. This particular ermine tail is important because the Youngest Member cannot function as a toddler without frequently inserting the tip of the tail into his ear. Also, daily repetitions of an exercise involving holding the ermine tail between the big toe and the next toe and pulling with all one’s strength appears to be an important part of his regimen. In all, a tail of no mean value.

The tail has been surgically re-attached twice.

So far.

The cloth is fraying. The next time the tail goes, it will take inventive and creative measures, and frankly, there are limits.

Your Humble Blogger being, as parents of toddlers tend to be, not overscrupulous in matters of deception and dishonesty, I had developed a Plan to purchase a second ermine, identical to the first in every respect, except that instead of containing the diamonds being old, filthy, ragged and worn-out, it would be clean and new. Briefly.

OK, we were willing to buy two new ones.

Only they don’t make ’em like that any more.

As a result, the Youngest Member will learn at a tender age that material objects are all ephemera. Look on my plush toys, ye mighty, and despair! I am sure that he will learn to love his inevitably tailless ermine, just as many of us loved our stuffies to bits when we were children, and then they acquired the power of nostalgia to take the place of their missing tails, eyes or fuzz.

A few weeks back, Abi Sutherland over at Making Light wrote about a few of my favorite things, starting a thread of people talking about those things that are “most precious to you”. The thread is interesting in a variety of ways (as many at that location are), and I thought to myself at the time I wonder what objects in my life are precious to me. Perhaps I would write a blog entry about it, someday. I made a note. I thought about it.

I had a lot of difficulty coming up with, say, a Top Five. Part of that is that I can’t decide on the criteria. Are they the things I would save in a fire? The things I get the most joy out of? The things that I have invested the most sentiment in? The irreplaceable things? One of my most precious possessions is a coffee mug that actually is a replacement for the one that broke. Since the preciousness (OK, in two senses) is connected to the story behind the mug, and the story behind the replacement of the mug is also a good and precious story, it’s possible that the replacement mug is actually more precious to me than the matching original.

Another possible answer is a sweater my mother knitted for me to my design. I wear it every three or four days all through the winter. It’s gray with a dark blue honeycomb pattern across the torso. It’s a nice sweater, and my mother made it for me, and I will be sad when it develops a hole that I can’t fix. But most of the time, when I wear it, it’s just a nice gray sweater; I don’t derive more joy out of it than the really comfy storebought one that is my other gray favorite.

I have a lot of books, including a few first editions and a few signed by the authors. I value them, I like having them, I take a sort of pride in them, but if somehow the idea of them being destroyed or lost is one I can face with equanimity. If I lost both our copies of Leave it to Psmith (mine and my Best Reader’s), I would go out and buy another. My mother’s old aleph-bet? The dictionary my mother gave me when I went to college because I was not eligible to get the dictionary given by the local chapter of the Seven Sisters Alumnae to those attending their almae materae? I like having them, but I wouldn’t put them on that list.

What about my tools, things that I use all the time? My laptop computer is swell, but it’s also running Windows Vista, so I would have to admit that I curse it far more than I praise it. And frankly, it’s not all that shiny. I have an mp3 player that, you know, plays mp3s, and I like that it does that, but I would happily trade it in for a better one. My Best Reader has an iPod, which is shiny and kinda cool, but I would happily trade that in for a better one. I like our Prius, but again, I would happily trade it in for a newer one. We have a few Good Knives, which I am glad of when I want to cut things, but if we didn’t have Good Knives, I would cut things with Crappy Knives and grunt and move on.

OK, my pens. For now, I am using three pens, mostly: my grandfather’s Pelikan, which is marvelously easy to fill but has a teeny tiny nib that I don’t much like; my trusty but cheap Osmiroid, for which I cannot find a cartridge converter that I like, since I dropped the last one down the drain whilst attempting to clean it; and a speedball nib (C-4) in a Koh-I-Noor holder for dipping. Each of these has annoying aspects, although I do enjoy using each of them. I would probably miss any of them, were I to (f’r’ex) drop them down the drain whilst attempting to clean them.

Last category that comes to mind is momentos. Snapshots of me in various plays. Awards that I won for doing various things at various times. Correspondence—there we are getting close. I have several boxes of letters and postcards, and the contents of those boxes would grieve me greatly to miss. They are almost certainly my most precious possessions. On the other hand, I keep them in those boxes, rarely take them out and look at them, and other than vaguely wanting to keep them intact, I have little use for them, either practical or spiritual. I get little joy from them, on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, there isn’t anything I get joy from near as much as the Youngest Member gets from that beat-up crusty ermine. Sometimes, after he has had one of his screaming fits, we present him with the ermine, and the screaming stops, the tip of the tail goes into his ear, and the anger almost visibly eases from him. At night, he may be resistant to the whole idea of going to bed, but once we pick him up and start singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and put the ermine in his arms, he is reconciled and snuggles in.

I have no object I love like that. I couldn’t love an object like that. It’s a toddler thing. And I suspect that’s why I can’t make my list of five precious possessions. If I didn’t have the Youngest Member and his example of what love for an inanimate object really looks like, I would probably just list off five things—the mug, the box of correspondence, my grandfather’s pen, my mother-of-pearl cufflinks, and the little fortune-cookie slip that reads give a kiss to the person sitting next to you that I keep meaning to slight-of-hand in at a Chinese restaurant—and not worry much about the criteria or the implications. As it is, though, I can’t do that.

And maybe, the right answer is that my most precious possession are those two new clean ermines with strong stitching on their tails. The one’s we can’t buy, because they stopped making them.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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