In the United States, souvenir-spoon-collecting dates back to the mid-1800s (the first American souvenir spoon, produced in the late 1800s, was outfitted with George Washington’s profile). By the time the Chicago World’s Fair arrived, in 1893, with its 27 million visitors, spoon-collecting had become a pastime. It’s impossible to say what people collecting spoons a century ago were thinking, but I like to imagine that then, too, it was a form of aspirational travel, carried out through gifts from friends and family. Perhaps those armchair travelers may have been no different from the toddler waiting at home for her spoon to arrive, and for the world to unfold through the magic of finely etched silver or nickel. I felt then, as I do now, that these spoons, with their careful embellishments, displayed a level of artistry that other keepsakes couldn’t match. I loved the scalloped edges on the Windsor spoon and the motorcar atop the one from Detroit — details that brought me joy in a way that a gift-shop shirt or a vial filled with pink sand from some tropical beach never did.
From 1988 to 1998, I flew between Boston’s Logan Airport and New York’s LaGuardia every other weekend, a regular route carved into me by divorce. Added up, this accounted for approximately 108,000 total miles flown, with not a single spoon purchased from either airport. Instead, I have spoons from other places, while I was living life away from one parent or the other.
I found my spoon collection again recently, on the heels of a move. They were still in their cabinets, which were never quite right, and so I ordered the appropriate ones with hitched notches, designed especially for them. A long time ago, when my father delivered these spoons to me, he was, as I saw it, promising something — that we’d see these places together. Eventually, I was promising something in return.
My father retired at 54 with the intention of traveling the world. At 55, he was diagnosed with A.L.S.; by 57, he was dead. In the final weeks of his life, I asked him to tell me about the places on his bucket list. By then, we both knew that he would not live to see the Canadian Rockies, the cliffs of Ireland, the magnificent green-lipped sea of New Zealand. Not long after his death, I booked a solo flight to Auckland — a destination he had shown me on the computer, after speech had become impossible. I brought his ashes with me. I did not buy a spoon.