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 dogs. Check out Kristine’s earlier articles.
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Kristine, thanks for sharing your background story about growing up on a farm, it’s a wonderfully evocative piece. I can picture you as a young girl working on your farm. No doubt your love of animals was nurtured during your childhood & you’ve carried it throughout your life. I admire people who work hard on farms. It instills values in people that they carry throughout life They also tend to be humble, down to earth people. There’s no doubt, working on the land keeps one grounded in more ways than one.
An excellent article. I don’t usually see people writing about the things that most people would overlook, or dismiss as knick-knacks or tchotchkes, or worse. I share your perspective. I have lots of little things scattered around my home, too. I keep them because each one of them is associated with a memory. Every time I look at one, it also triggers a story associated with that memory … and a smile.
Thanks for the kind words. The room I’m sitting in to write this reply is filled with memories. The photos of all my beloved Corgis cover the walls, along with a few of the ribbons we won at various dog events. It’s always a little bittersweet to think back on the dogs that are now gone. I like to think that by spending a few moments each day thinking about them, a small part of them lives on, if only in my memories.
You have quite a talent for evoking mental pictures through your writing. My experiences are very different from yours, but I can see you on that farm, or at those dog competitions, or in other situations you describe.
Thanks for the kind comments. I really enjoyed writing this particular article.
Sounds like you had a wonderful childhood. It was quite different from mine, as I grew up in a town in England, but I was thinking that I had the same attitude to “stuff”. Then I remembered all the books, which are why I need a two-bedroom apartment….
Books are difficult for me to part with. I still have two from when I was seven years old. The Album of Horses is one that’s stayed with me all these years. I loved horses as a child, but that book was as close as I ever came to owning one.
I also have a signed copy of Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey. I remember my mom taking me to the library to meet Walk and get my book signed. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe I was getting to meet an author!
You have a wonderful perspective on life. Unfortunately, it’s not shared by enough people in my opinion. Farming has a way of keeping people down to earth. The work has to get done. I lived in WI for a time while growing up. We were in the heart of dairy country. Hard work was the norm. That contrasted greatly with the NJ suburbs where I lived when we were not in WI. Helping friends bale hay was some of the hardest physical work I’ve ever done in my life.
Thank you for the kind words. I do think growing up on a farm can help to create a strong work ethic. A lot of the boys in our town spent their summers bucking bales of hay onto trailers. I was never strong enough to lift bales that weighed almost as much as I did. I relied on dragging them to move them around!
Thanks for sharing. It was a pleasant read on a Sunday morning. I have few mementoes from youth, but my wife and I enjoy recalling favorite childhood memories to share with the other. Road trips or hikes are two instances where we’ll find ourselves with plenty of time to remember, reflect and share our memories. Remembering the past also helps us better recognize those things in the present that we’ll value in the future. Thanks for a thoughtful and pleasant read.
Yep, it’s also a pleasant read on a Monday morning. Reading your story was such a mellow feeling I guess it just felt like a Sunday morning. Either that or maybe I’m just one of those retired seniors who doesn’t bother keeping track of what day it is 🙂
I love this. Even though I’ve only been retired for a few months, I find myself struggling to remember what day of the week it is! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
From this and your many previous posts, I think you can answer questions concerning “happiness” and “enough”. You simply know yourself and what it is you want.
I’m glad those traits are reflected through my writing. I’ve almost always been comfortable with who I am. Whether it was as the nerdy kid who played oboe and showed goats at the county fair or the retired adult who spends her days teaching silly tricks to her dogs and doing math puzzles, I’m pretty confident I know what makes me happy.