Tough Sledding

December 2010
With a nod to the late Orson Welles, the 1940s auteur-turned-1970s wine pitchman whose “Citizen Kane” Rosebud idea inspired the photo essay that begins on Page 90, we begin this month with a few words of caution:

Identifying the one object that represents personal bliss isn’t as easy as you might think, at least for those of us who’ve led generally happy lives.

First, I had to rule out favorite mementos, including my Muhammad Ali autographed boxing gloves; the impossibly detailed scale model of the USS Constitution my father built the year after he retired; and my impressive collection of Elvis-related memorabilia, including the $12 “Jailhouse Rock” tapestry that, sadly, was partly consumed by a little rodent that wintered in the closet where it was stored. While fabulous and meaningful, in the end those things are mere collectibles.

Next I had to eliminate things that struck me as, well, cliché. And here I’m talking about my handwritten coming-of-age journals, various awards, trophies, and certificates of participation (Really? Who saves those?), and the clumsy, adorable hand-painted nameplates my children once made as an after-school art project.

Photographs? Well, yes, there is a faded snapshot of my wife and myself as a younger couple, back when her hair was as untamed as we imagined ourselves to be, before mine turned the color of fresh-fallen snow. I’ve carried that picture in various wallets for more than 30 years. But frankly, that’s pretty obvious. No mystery. A very short movie.

I settled, in the end, on something every bit as ordinary as Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sled, Rosebud. It’s a saying I ran across a few years ago, just six words long, that for me has been the key to a contented life. In an effort to turn the saying into a family mantra, I typed it up, printed it out, and taped it to the screen of a home computer. The computer died long ago, and the kids are now off at college, but the mantra lives on.

It’s simply this: “Count your blessings, don’t compare them.”

Happy holidays.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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