I sold a tractor today. It was my grandfather’s tractor which, upon Grandpa’s death, passed to my uncle who sold it to me. I wouldn’t admit it when I bought the tractor, but I was trying to purchase the memories associated with it. I bought it for the sentimental value. During the five years that I’ve owned Grandpa’s tractor, I have learned some things about sentimental value.
1. Sentimental value does not put money in the bank. If you own something for sentimental reasons, you do NOT own it for economic reasons. Therefore, any financial decisions that pertain to the object of your affection will not be economically motivated. That is not to say that possessions of esteem will not make money, it’s just that money is not the reason that you own it.
2. Objects with sentimental value do not resurrect people, nor do they make memories. They do, however, spark some memories that would otherwise be forgotten. When I was young, I did not realize that seemingly ordinary things would become significant. Take, for instance, the electrical tape that was wrapped around the dry-cracked steering wheel on the old tractor and the Prestone oil change reminder that was stuck under the hood on October 18, 1993. Those two items compelled me to buy this tractor. When I see them, I see Grandpa’s huge calloused hands. I see his plaid cotton shirt, rolled up to his elbows, his Dickey’s cotton pants and his wristwatch with two bands connected to span his huge wrists. I see squinty slitted eyelids, open barely enough to make out his unique hazel/brown/green eyes through his bifocal lenses. I see the “Woman’s Lib” poster on the wall, the workbench, the tools, the rotary phone and the teacher’s desk in the corner. Owning Grandpa’s tractor has helped me recall details about the man and his handywork that I could have remembered without the tractor, but wouldn’t have.
3. It’s okay to own things for sentimental reasons as long as they don’t become an obsession. It’s possible to spend so much time and money maintaining the items that help you remember the past that you sacrifice your future’s past.
4. There is a time to let go. I sold that old tractor today. No, it didn’t cost me much money to own it, but I had a lot of money tied up in it. Yes, it did help me recall some memories. But now that I have reminisced, I realize that the tractor is ephemeral- it will not last forever. It has rust in places that it didn’t. Those beloved oil-change reminders are peeling off. It has required some mechanical work to keep it running… in fact, it really should be restored completely. I don’t even use it for anything except for remembering. So I decided that it should belong to someone who will use it. As it turns out, there are others who have sentimental attachments to antiques like my tractor… and they pay well to buy them!
Do you want to know what I did with the money? I didn’t sell the tractor to put extra money in my checking account. I used the money to buy a guitar. I have commissioned a luthier to hand-make a guitar specially for me. I’ll play the guitar on a daily basis, whereas the tractor would sit in the machine shed for months without being started. The guitar will be used to bless others at church and anywhere that people are willing to listen to me. I might even get to write a song or two on this guitar. And then, someday when I’m gone, this guitar will bring back memories of me and my handywork for my grandchildren. Maybe they’ll want to play it. Maybe they’ll want to keep it for the memories. Maybe they’ll just sell it and use the money to buy something that they can use to bless others. I guess that’ll be up to them.