As a child, I was once severely punished for breaking a religious statue. I was practicing twirling my baton, which flew out of my hand directly into a combo statue of Jesus and Mary. Unfortunately, Mary lost her head. It was an accident.

The joy of an infant’s fingers and toes is a fleeting one – which is why plaster of Paris replicas of her children’s baby digits are among Gail Caiazzo’s favorite keepsakes. Photo courtesy of Gail Caiazzo

Without going into the actual punishment (which definitely did not fit the crime), I can unequivocally say it had a lifelong effect on my brain.

At 11 years old, I consciously made the decision to never place more importance on material things than on the feelings of the people I love.

It has not always been easy to keep that promise to myself. Children break things. That’s what they do. Sometimes it is obviously a mistake. Sometimes things get broken because of sheer obliviousness to their surroundings. Whatever the cause of the breakage, one always had to believe that it was not intentional.

Regardless, I always did my best to say, “It’s OK, it was an accident.” You sweep up the broken pieces and move on.

We accumulate possessions over our lives. While I admire the notion of being a minimalist, that would never be included in any description of me. I may even have some hoarder tendencies. Or maybe I am a packrat. Or both?

If you ever visit my home, you will know a lot about me just by observing the furnishings in each room. The keepsakes are out in plain sight.

When my children were born, I tried desperately to hold on to every memory, every moment of the precious newborn stage.

Looking at those tiny fingers and toes, I knew how perfect and fleeting the pleasure of enjoying those digits would last.

Fortunately, I had a good friend who was a dentist and agreed to indulge my desire to replicate those tiny hands and feet. He happily plunged Tony’s little hands and feet into alginate, then made plaster of Paris replicas of them. I was elated to see the results. Every little wrinkle in every little finger and toe was permanently cast in that medium.

I repeated the scenario when Karen was born.

These little sculptures have been lovingly displayed in my homes. The occasional walk down memory lane always includes ever so gently taking them out of their display case. It’s a sweet journey back in time to hold a version of your child’s babyhood in your hand.

So, over the years, I occasionally put myself through the painful mental exercise of “What would you rescue in an emergency evacuation?”

The human beings, of course, would be first.

The anxiety this thought process provokes requires I not put myself through it too often. Anyway, I have this picture of myself rapidly donning some sort of bathrobe, running downstairs to the display case, then somehow escaping with the priceless items.

I have the table my great-great-grandfather made as a wedding present for my grandmother. It is a beautiful, ornate, round piece, obviously hand crafted with much love. While I enjoy looking at it every day, it does not hold a candle to those fingers and toes.

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