One of the most affordable and portable souvenirs of travel is the simple sew-on patch. My son began collecting them at an early age.
Cloth mementos of our travels - in Canada, Britain, Europe, and the US - symbolize a collective experience that Tim has largely forgotten, at least consciously. But I think it resides in his memory at some level, just as vibrantly as the colorfully stitched scenes and symbols of his patches connote those far-flung destinations.
Six or seven years ago, as Tim entered his teens, I assembled his growing collection of patches and sewed them onto a dark-green wool blanket, both for safekeeping and display.
At the time, Tim was better traveled than I was, and he had a keen interest in history.
He had accompanied his dad to Civil War battlefields, Colonial Williamsburg, Florida, Canada, and even to Europe once again. The collection of patches he brought home continued to grow.
Decorating that blanket was a secret labor of love for a nonsewer such as I, and Tim appreciated the result when he opened the package on Christmas morning. It looked beautiful across the bottom of his bed, and had plenty of room for travel patches to come.
I took Tim traveling as well - if not overseas, at least to the states that border our Indiana home, and occasionally beyond.
In the summers, we often drove to Galesburg, Ill. (its Railway Museum sells a lovely patch) and boarded Amtrak's intercity train, the Southwest Chief, to visit friends in Colorado. Tim found his trip patch at the Cuchara Mountain Resort, with its stunning view of the big peak.
Over one school vacation we hiked a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah Park. The trail's patch - with its green mountains, dark pines, and gold sky - is one of my favorites.
Once or twice Tim accompanied me to Washington D.C., when I went there for work. The patch of the National Zoo's pandas looks delightfully at home on his blanket.
On his birthdays, we would head to Kentucky's Mammoth Caves, which are represented on the blanket with patches depicting a walking tour and a boat tour.
Having been born and adopted in Kentucky, Tim has several additional patches from the Bluegrass State. On one, racehorses dance across the wool past the log cabin birthplace of a fellow Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln.
Back home in Indiana, Tim collected patches from the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Connor Prairie, and, of course, Lincoln's boyhood home.
Recently I came across a few patches from my own childhood. I never collected them in the same quantities as Tim, but I do have a few from the ski centers around Rochester, N.Y., where I grew up.
It struck me as I was sewing that the faded snowy scenes of Bristol and Whiteface Mountain, Holiday Valley, and Allegheny State Park would lend a soft wintry touch to the nearly blank lower corner of Tim's blanket.
I also had a brand new patch I'd bought on impulse on a recent trip to the Izaak Walton Inn in Glacier National Park. Tim, grown now, and living independently, didn't accompany me, but he might as well have for all I could resist that patch.
When I saw him after that trip, I asked him about stitching my own small collection onto his blanket, and he was all for it. We looked in his room, closets, and storage chests, but failed to find the blanket.
Then a light went on behind his eyes.
"Just a sec," he said. "It's in my car." While he looked, I thought that this was some tribute to the blanket from a guy going on 20. He kept it in his car.
Sure enough, he came in with the story of his life on the road folded in his arms, and handed it to me. He'll get it back this Christmas.