Travel, the Expat, and Touchstones

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Touchstone; noun. Among other definitions, “A fundamental or quintessential part or feature,” in context often used as a foundational part of life.

We often hear people that seemingly cannot exist without that one particular food, recreation, or item that is so important to them. “I just cannot find XYZ anywhere,” and then that lack seems to tarnish the rest of their experience.

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I have a few things that have been a part of my life as I have moved to different places. A mantel clock from my great grandfather, the machinist chest of tools from my grandfather that I use often, cast iron skillets and lids from my grandparents, tools from my father, piano music from my mother that I use when I play at church. I have all my log books since I first started flying January 4, 1981 as well as a couple flight jackets that are mementos of times that are past that I treasure.

These are all things that have significant meaning to me and while not particularly valuable, they provide a link with my family who are all deceased. When I use them I have a fleeting thought about them and it brings a pleasant reassurance to the day.

TouchstoneI remember a while back Paul Thompson wrote about his Zippo lighter collection from various ships etc. that he was onboard or where he lived. I have not spoken to him about this so I will apologize for using this as an illustration if it is inaccurate. It is, however, similar to what I am referring.

If you are thinking of moving overseas, it is well worth considering the touchstones in your life. If it is not available on the local economy, are you willing to pay the cost to have it sent? Very little cannot be sent around the world to bring a little bit of home to where you are living; just bring money.

Recently I sent a small box of items that are important to that person, but the shipping was over $140. They needed the touch of home and needed it in a hurry but they were willing to pay for what they wanted.

Is that one special brand of food important or could serving it on familiar place settings suffice? Can the substitution satisfy the innate longing for familiarity?

Growing up, I was my grandfather’s shadow whenever possible. He worked as a stationary engineer for Transue and Williams in Alliance Ohio, running the powerhouse. On Saturdays he would take me to work when he could and I got to see the running of all the mysterious machinery. He taught me to use his tools to repair problems. At home when I was little, I would sit on his lap and we would talk and share spoons of peanut butter from the big tub. We would make coffee in different ways and compare the results. He was a great cook and was patient with my efforts.

When I cook using the iron skillet and the splatter shield he made from sheet aluminum and wood, I cannot help but think of the pleasant times we shared with these same utensils.

These are some of my touchstones.

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I am in my early 50’s, living in North Central Indiana. I was medically retired from law enforcement and went back to school earning a MBA and a Masters and a PhD in counseling. My primary occupation is business turn around and consulting for business both large (Fortune 500) and small. In my spare time I donate my time to work with many of our recent immigrants in town.

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7 years ago

Hi LeRoy, I’m glad that you have certain touchstones that give happiness and many good memories. Thanks to Forex and Atlas Balikbayan shipping, I too have so many touchstones here in the Philippines. I’m surrounded by things that are meaningful and also just fun to have around. I have paintings done by artist friends of ours, a plastic thermos jug that we often took to family outings, vintage Christmas ornaments and even a big vintage sock monkey collection that came along! New lives and adventures begin here, but I agree that it’s still nice to have some old and new… Read more »

william c borkowski
william c borkowski
7 years ago

i agree with your article’s sentiments. there is that old expression of “burning your bridges” when you leave one place to move to another. but touchstones can serve as stepping stones back to very important places in our past, and keep our memories, and feelings, alive.

LeRoy Miller
LeRoy Miller
7 years ago

Sometimes burning the bridges is an excellent thing to do to get a new start or leave a bad situation or relationship.

Keeping touchstones of the good and the positive things in our past can reinforce our emotions and inner strength when the hard things in life wash over us.

7 years ago

Great Article! We always cherish the things my parents gave us like old china, silverware, clocks, etc. Even though they are both still living, just looking at the items brings back good memories of the past.

Paul Thompson
7 years ago

LeRoy: Apology not required! At least once a day as I walk by my Zippo display on the wall I’ll remember the one my father gave me, the great guys I sailed with and places I’ve been and memories I have. Could I live and be happy without them? Yes I could, but I’m happier I still have them, as they connect me to memories I’d never want to lose. I understand the point of your article and agree 100% the value touchstones is great but only to us. just like those cured cast-iron skillets are to you. Great article… Read more »

Cordillera Cowboy
7 years ago

You are right sir. Small things can keep us connected to the good things from our past. I have a small, cheap souvenir figurine of a horse that was given to me as a child. The paint has worn off, it’s chipped, broken and glued back together. But I’ve carried it with me wherever I’ve gone in the world. I found it more difficult than I anticipated to get rid of accumulated “stuff” when we downsized as we prepared for retirement. Most difficult were my books. I kept one. I’d like to keep the rolltop desk that my father gave… Read more »


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