Magnetic Memories

Peru, Kathmandu, Cape Town, Hawaii.

For decades, magnets from these and other places have spread across our refrigerator. This past week, I moved them to our bedroom, out of sight from guests in our kitchen.

We started the collection without much thought. While other travelers collected plates or snow globes, we bought magnets, one per destination. They’re usually the only thing we bring home.

By the time we left to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in 2016, we had more than 100. We returned home with still more.

We didn’t amass the collection to impress others. We meant it for ourselves, as a mosaic of memories. 

We don’t want anyone to perceive otherwise, so we’ve now made it more private as we prepare to replace our refrigerator. I mounted a whiteboard on our bedroom wall and arranged the 158 magnets with U.S. destinations on the left, international destinations on the right and a Peace Corps magnet in the middle that previously adorned our refrigerator in Moldova.

We know how fortunate we’ve been to visit these places. If you ever visit us and want to see the magnets, just ask. I can tell you a story about each one. For example:

Now known as Utqiaġvik, Barrow is the largest city on Alaska’s North Slope. I traveled there one summer to write a magazine story about a science education project for Native Iñupiat children. I remember being unable to sleep at night because it never got dark.

My favorite memory of Berlin didn’t involve the conference I was attending. It was the taxi driver who helped me find the house where my mother grew up before fleeing with her family, prior to the Holocaust. He took several photos of me there.

To reach the Palace of Gold in Wheeling, we drove through a West Virginia neighborhood with pickup trucks and American flags. Only then did we arrive at this Hare Krishna center with its peacocks, incense and chanting. It was quite strange, but we’re glad we went.

I had a free afternoon during a scientific meeting in Rio. Instead of going to fancy shops or beaches, like many participants, I took a walking tour of a favela, the densely populated home for many poorer Brazilians. I met wonderful people there.

What I remember most about Traverse City, which we visited during a drive around Lake Michigan, was buying tickets online for a Judy Collins concert from a local television reporter. When we picked them up, we noticed they were labeled as being free. Presumably the reporter got them as a promotion, then sold them to us. Nice work if you can get it.

So, yes, there’s a story behind every magnet. If any of mine spark a memory about your own travels, please share it with a comment.

5 thoughts on “Magnetic Memories”

  1. Thanks for the magnetic travelogue, David! Over the years I collected globes in places I visited, when I found one that would make a unique addition to my collection. I’ve also gotten earrings. Like magnets, they are easy to find a place for in luggage. Each time I wear them, I have an earful of memories of when and where they were acquired.

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  2. Great article David! Love the stories. We collect travel magnets also, but our travels are much less extensive.

    I am hoping we can finally travel a bit this year. Alas, we are still not able to use tickets from May 2020 to travel to Scotland due to the pandemic. If you could go back to anywhere you have been in the U.S in 2021 where would you go and why?

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    1. Thanks Gail. We’ve been to several U.S. destinations that deservedly attract a lot of attention: Four Corners, the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, Maine, etc. One great place overlooked by many Northeasterners — and drivable during a pandemic— is the Great Lakes. We took a wonderful drive around Lake Michigan, counter-clockwise from Chicago, visiting the Upper Peninsula, Minneapolis and Madison on the way back. It’s not Scotland but it’s pretty sweet. We’re happy to chat with you and Brian and, of course, wish you a great trip (wherever)!

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  3. I love these travel stories; more, please! In 3 weeks we’re going to Vienna to see Henry’s 97 y/o uncle who went back to Austria after the Holocaust ‘to rebuild a communist Austria’! We often tease him with ‘So how’d that go for you?’ At least we hope that as vaccinated U.S. Citizens we’ll be allowed in.
    You have so much to be proud of in all the humanitarian work you do, and it’s clear that you bring that to spirit to every trip you and Champa take. Hope there are many more!

    Katie Hicks

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    1. Thank you, Katie. I wish you and Henry a great trip to Vienna. We loved our own visit there, even without an amazing uncle to visit. Safe travels!

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