Priceless to Me

Kristine Hayes

AT AGE 55, I’M PERHAPS a bit young to spend time reflecting on my life. My maternal grandmother died at 101, so I could have many more decades to go. Nevertheless, I find myself more nostalgic now than I was just a few years ago.

I often think back to my childhood and how it shaped who I am today. In 1976, when I was in fourth grade, my parents purchased a two-and-a-half-acre property in a small town outside of Eugene, Oregon. Within a couple of years, our hobby farm was filled with a variety of animals. Twelve Siberian husky dogs, a handful of barn cats and a herd of dairy goats resided in the various outbuildings my father constructed. Rabbits, chickens, sheep and a couple of pigs eventually moved in as well. My love of animals grew out of my daily interactions with our menagerie.

Helping to care for all those creatures fell squarely on my shoulders. Every day, there were goats to milk and stalls to clean. Doing daily chores was a given. In return for my efforts, no monetary compensation was provided. I suspect my work ethic was shaped, in part, by the hundreds of hours I spent performing manual labor on our farm.

In sixth grade, I became a member of the local 4-H club. During summer 1978, I attended my first county fair. Staring at the trophy table—filled with an assortment of gaudy plastic figurines mounted atop faux marble bases—my competitive nature was ignited.

I walked away from that first fair with just a handful of ribbons. But I vowed to return the following year and bring home some hardware. For the next 12 months, I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about the various competitions. My work paid off. My bedroom soon overflowed with trophies. These days, I compete at dog shows instead of county fairs. But my competitive drive is every bit as strong at age 55 as it was at 12.

I learned other skills as a child that stayed with me as an adult. My meticulous, handwritten 4-H record book won me accolades for my “attention to detail.” The notebook I use today, to track my personal finances, is equally thorough.

There were also deeper, more meaningful aspects of my adult life forged during those childhood years. A recurring theme in many HumbleDollar essays is the emphasis on spending money on experiences rather than on possessions. When I reflect on my life, the experiences and possessions I cherish the most are intertwined.

Despite moving—and downsizing—several times over the past 40 years, I still have a collection of mementoes from my childhood. The box has been pared down multiple times. These days, it only contains a few items, but they conjure up fond memories. I have some faded, tattered blue ribbons I won at a state fair when I was a teenager. I have a black-and-white photo of my parents mushing our team of sled dogs down a snowy trail. I’ve also kept a binder that’s filled with stories and poems I wrote when I was 10 years old.

As an adult, I’ve never owned many items of value. I don’t have a nightstand overflowing with jewelry. I don’t have a display case filled with crystal or china. An estate sale liquidating everything I own would likely bring in just a few hundred dollars.

My treasured possessions are still those items documenting experiences that fill me with joy. I have thick scrapbooks chronicling the life of each of my dogs. I’ve got a ticket stub from a rodeo I attended with a close friend. The numerous greeting cards my husband has given me—filled with his handwritten prose—are displayed on our living room wall.

None of the items that mean the most to me has any monetary worth. Instead, they provide me with something far more valuable. They allow me to relive experiences that delivered the most happiness in my life.

Kristine Hayes Nibler recently retired, and she and her husband now live in Arizona. She enjoys spending her time reading, writing and training their four dogsCheck out Kristine’s earlier articles.

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