(Photograph by Katherine Frey)

Elizabeth Chang

50, Potomac, articles editor, WP Magazine

I kept this handsome curio on my desk at home before a laptop freed me from the tyranny of writing and editing in one place. I would pick it up when I was musing or stuck — its cool, smooth heft solid and comforting, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

It was from Pass Cleaners, my maternal grandparents’ namesake shop in Newton, near Boston (slogan: “Pass it to Pass Cleaners”). My grandmother gave it to me long after the store had closed. I always imagined it to be a weight for holding clothes in place while being pressed.

When I learned from the Internet very recently that it was simply a late-1800s Victorian-style paperweight advertising a button company, I was reminded how lasting, and wrong, childhood impressions can be. But, then, memories don’t have to be precise to have meaning.

I also have from my grandmother a trivet to hold an iron, a mysterious wooden candlestick and china figurines so fussy I can’t imagine why I took them. Why I wanted the curio, that I know. It’s a tactile, evocative link to my grandparents and the shop, redolent of starch and cigar smoke; steam and dressing-room mirrors; rounded white tailor’s chalk and a rainbow of thread.

When I hold it, chilly and sleek, the lines on its surface worn down from hands before mine, it doesn’t matter what it was for but what it does. It connects me to my past, to those who sold, tailored or cleaned clothes — as I now do with words.

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