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Museum of Culture and Environment

Things We Carry 1

The Things We Carry  

(A community-curated exhibition)

Objects hold memories. Physical things carry traces of people we have loved, times of joy and terror, and places we may have heard of, but never visited. They connect us to distant homelands and important moments in personal and family memory. Through our objects, we carry with us complex emotions and histories. Sometimes, in contemplating these material things, we discover new insights about where we have come from and whom we might become.

All the items in this exhibit have been loaned by community members who are sharing their stories and memories with us. Some are fun and funny. Others are sad and poignant. All are united by common threads of remembrance, reflection, and resilience.

This exhibition is inspired, in part, by Tim O’Brien’s book “The Things They Carried,“ which our campus and county are reading and discussing this year in the National Endowment for the Arts “Big Read” program. It is also a part of CWU’s year long Social Justice and Human Rights dialogue on themes of migration and immigration.

Phase One (January-March 2017)

Airman’s Medal - Loaned by Kenneth Collins, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army.

Background: Chief Warrant Officer Collins served as a helicopter pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), popularly known as the “Night Stalkers.”  In  2006, a pair of Chinook MH-47 helicopters attempted to insert a combined strike force in a mountainous region in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The helicopter piloted by Chief Collins took enemy fire and was forced to the ground. The aircrew and operators took, and returned, sustained small arms fire until a successful rescue operation was mounted.

Warrant Officer Collins received extensive injuries during the crash and the subsequent ground engagement, which included hand to hand combat.  He was awarded the Airman’s Medal for his valorous conduct on fire.   He has undergone numerous reconstructive surgeries. He currently farms in Kittitas County and is active in local animal care and environmental causes.

Ken’s Story: 

Talk to me, man

Military historians may someday be able to put that day’s events into coherent terms. But for those of us who lived through those hours of combat, passing in and out of consciousness, there just isn’t a clear storyline. The images come again and again, usually unbidden, out of sequence, jumbled together. Night turning to dawn. Flashes, far and near. Fear for those already out of the helicopter, under fire, somewhere on the ground. Can we manage a landing? Can we get everyone out in time? Us on our bellies, pinned down. A glacier and a rocky field. Flashes from caves above us. The certainty of imminent death. Every possible emotion. Rage. Fear. Exultation. Keep going until the last shot. Just keep going. Flashes from the caves above us. Whizzes through the air. Where’d you get hit? Talk to me, man. Glimpses of the Taliban, advancing. Rocks flying, exploding in the air. Voices, friend or foe? A voice saying, “They’re coming, they’re coming.”  Blackness. Pain. Being carried down a rocky hill on a gurney. Awaking at night, back there on the glacier. A rocky field. Again. And again.

Talk to me, man.

What does a medal or decoration mean? In one sense, it isn’t necessary. Those of us who came through combat know, when we meet, that no story, no retelling, will ever convey what it was like. What it still is like.

For some, a medal is supposed to be the answer to the question: what did you do? But when I hold this decoration, all I have is questions, questions that simply can’t be answered. What does it mean to take another human life? Are any of us so different from one another? We all share a love of God, even if we have, for a time, turned our back to Him. A love of homeland. What wounds do we carry, not just to the body, but to the soul, once we have done the things we had to do? Where can we find peace and a measure of grace? Where can we rediscover all that binds us to one another, all of us imperfect children of God?

I certainly don’t have the answers. I do know that each combat veteran has to find his or her own path back, and that none of us can do that on our own. It is so hard, after all, to believe we are really here, not there, again and again, for all time.

For me, the path keeps leading me back to care for animals, the most vulnerable of God’s creatures. Beasts of the field and forest carry with them a quiet wisdom that nearly all of us have forgotten. To be able to calm an injured horse, to help feed a herd of elk in a snowdrift, is a gift. Alone with God’s creatures, who know neither ego nor agenda, I can, for some moments at least, really be just here, not there. In caring for them, in honoring a language we can’t begin to understand, I can, at long last, start to lay my burden down.

-Ken Collins

Ellensburg. 30 December 2016

Addendum: Warrant Officer Collins was wearing this crucifix over his heart, at the moment he was shot in the chest during the events described above.  The cross, which had rested on a small model Bible, was later recovered, dented but intact, from his mangled body armor. He has carefully arranged the neck chain in this case, below the passage from Tim O’Brien's The Things They Carried. He explains, “I hope these objects, and this story, will help somebody, someday. with whatever they are going through.”

"They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried."
—Tim O'Brien, in The Things They Carried


Fishing Knife

lent by Barbara Earl Thomas

This fishing knife belonged to my Florida-born father Grady C. Wright, who settled in Seattle after leaving the military in the early 1950s. Fishing was a way of life. Beyond sport, it was food for his family and neighbors. He was fiercely proud of his ability to clean a fish in five cuts, never tearing the flesh. It was respect for the catch and reverence for the ritual. He judged his friends, fellow fishermen, by their skill.

I rarely saw him without his knife. He never allowed others to use it. There was something about this ever-sharp razor that was uniquely him.

My parents drowned--on a bright Labor Day--in September,1988. When I picked up their wet gear, I found the knife safe in its case – still sharp. I am now the keeper of the story and the knife. In a crack in the wall leading to the laundry room, I’ve placed a leaded hook, a plastic bobber, a fishing license and the knife.


-Barbara Earl Thomas

Seattle, January 2017


Pillow Case

Lent by Jack Frost

I now have twenty seven years clean and sober. I  am living in a safe home right here in Ellensburg

However, there was a time in my life that all my possessions in the world fit into this pillow case.

I spent eight years being homeless. I struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse.  I lived on the streets in Seattle, Louisville KY and San Diego CA. I even lived in a dumpster in Pioneer Square  behind a Chinese restaurant; back then, I had hit rock bottom and I felt lucky  when the leftover food was thrown in the dumpster.  I thought I was getting “breakfast in bed.”

In August 1988 I entered inpatient treatment. After getting out, I could only stay sober for one day. After getting out of the next treatment in November 1988, I stayed sober for three weeks.

I was in despair. I went into detox 52 times.  I finally said to a counselor, “I need help.” I got into an excellent chemical dependency treatment program, which was in an isolated area far from any taverns. I got out on Monday, July 3, 1989.

I left the facility with this pillow case, containing:

—two pairs of underwear
—three pairs of socks
—two T-shirts
—lightweight summer jacket
—one sweater
—pair of flip flops
—a few books

I’ve been clean and sober ever since.

Even when we feel we are all alone, there are people out there who really care.  None of us can get well on our own. We need to hear one another’s stories, and learn all that we share.

Recovery is never easy. It does get easier over time.

—Jack Frost, Ellensburg


Linen with Motif of Paired Griffins
Vienna, c. 1936
(Lent by Mark Auslander)

This beautiful linen has, in the memory of my family, come to evoke a hoped-for international journey of escape that never came to pass.   

The cloth is lined by a motif of facing griffins, mythical creatures with the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle. It was given to my great-aunt Celia by my grandfather Dr. Jacob Auslander, when he returned from the Bukovina region in Romania in 1936, following his failed effort to convince his parents, Isaac and Clara, to emigrate from Radautz (Radauti), Bukovina to the United States.

The linen takes on particular poignance, given the knowledge that, five years later my great-grandparents and their grandson Dan Pagis were deported from Bukovina, by fascist Romanian officials acting in collaboration with the Nazis, to the killing fields of Transnistria, in the historical context of the Holocaust/Shoah.

When my grandfather returned in 1936 to New York City, without his parents, he brought at least four of these linens, one each for his wife Rebekah and her sisters Runya, Celia, and Sonya, who were also living in New York. Celia’s daughter Joan kindly gave this linen to me and my wife Ellen three years ago.

Evidently, Isaac and Clara refused to come to the United States in 1936 because they feared that their motherless six year old grandson, Dan Pagis, whom they were raising, would not be allowed into the U.S. with them.

The ancient motif of the Griffin is celebrated in several important public works of sculpture in Vienna, where my grandfather Jacob attended university. We believe Jacob acquired the linens in Vienna, during his return trip from Radautz.

In ancient thought, paired griffins symbolized the eternal marriage bond, since a griffin losing its mate was said to search for it for all time. I speculate that for my classically-trained grandfather, this paired motif stood for his parents, whom he had to leave behind.

During the last two days of  the Jewish holiday of Sukkott, the 9th and 10th of October, 1941 the thousands of Jews of Radautz, including my great grandparents and cousin Dan, were forcibly deported. They were taken in railway cattle cars across the Dneistra river to the Transnistria region, where most perished. Dan Pagis (1930-1986) survived the deportation and later became one of Israel’s leading poets.

Dan never spoke explicitly of what befell him or his grandparents during the terrible years 1941-45. Conditions on board the train car are hinted at by one of his most famous poems, written in the form of an endless circle:

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i

Click here for text of poem in Hebrew


Adoption mementos

Lent by Barbara Hammersberg

Object 1 is a Brown baby dress: My two sisters and I were adopted from South Korea and were brought together into the same home. I can’t remember anything before America because I was six months old when I arrived at Sea-tac Airport where I would meet my new parents. I didn’t know my sisters before America either since we were not blood related. I don’t know what I was wearing when I arrived, but my youngest sister Catherine came wearing a soft dark brown velvet dress with tiny white polka dots with white trimming. The dress is a symbol of the journey that my sisters and I took from Korea to the United States.

Object 2 is my Korean Travel Certificate: It doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t see myself in it. I can barely recognize or comprehend that the picture of the baby was me. My name is different and so is the writing, both are foreign to me. I know that this document is important because it is one of the few things that connect me back to Korea besides my ethnicity and my physical features. It is the object that connects my past to my future and with it, all the change that happened because of my travel from Korea to America.

-Barbara Hammersberg

Ellensburg, December 2016


Duffel Bag
lent by Kelsey Gower

I was in the Air Force for six years. At my first duty station I was issued this roller duffel bag which I then took on each one of the three deployments I had during my years of service. It made travelling with the vast amount of items we were required to bring easier. Many others were also issued the same duffel bags, which is why I also wrote my name on the outside of the bag in marker and used colored tape to tag it. When I was not on deployment I carried items in this bag just in case I was called to do a short-notice deployment. I still carry items in this bag for the years I was in inactive reserve just in case I was recalled to service.


Grandma’s Marble Table
lent by Karen Blair

I’ve decorated my dining room with a lovely marble-topped side table I revere because it carries some family history about my dear maternal grandmother, Margaret. Gram and her husband Joe, immigrants to Brooklyn, New York, from the Russian-occupied Baltics, were starting a family during World War I. Grandpa’s brother was gassed by the Germans and died in an American veterans hospital soon afterward.  Since post war businesses rewarded veterans with jobs, woe to the fellow who had not served, for whatever reason. So Grandpa gave a needy young man the discharge papers of the dead brother, in hopes the deception would land the fellow some employment. My grandma was irate. “What if we’re caught and they deport us? You’d rather be a do-gooder than protect your own wife and children?” But her opinion held no sway in a patriarchal household.

When the recipient landed a position, his grateful dad designed and executed this marble-topped table with a wrought-iron base, ornamented with graceful ribbons of metal vines and leaves.  This was his thank you. Grandma hated this symbol of foreigner vulnerability and she kept this furniture in her damp dark basement, near the washing machine, unappreciated and disrespected, topped with containers of sloppy soaps and spilled bleach.  But the table was sturdy and has come into my home across the continent, almost a century later, where I’ve centered it in the thick of activity, celebrating real life, my complicated ancestors, gifts of kindness, and reactions from fear.

No wonder old folks eschew cramped nursing home apartments in favor of their own crumbling, crowded dwellings. Each of our objects holds its own stories and they deserve to be kept. Whereas young people collect items to attach their experiences to them, retirees have already completed the task. Working people may see dents and chips in the households of their elders, but aged owners see the story of their lives. A quiet crowded setting of a senior citizen may well hold a multitude of tales that the young set has yet to acquire.

-Karen Blair

Seattle, December 2016


Potato Chips from Cross Country Trip

After a lot of careful consideration back in 2015, my husband Brian and I decided to up and move clear across the entire country, from our old home in New Haven, CT in order for Brian to enroll in a masters program here at CWU.  I had grown up in Upstate New York, and lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and Brian had lived in the tiny state of Connecticut for his entire life.  The move entailed us leaving behind all of our friends and family in the Northeast, and my very stable job as a school psychologist in CT.  Neither one of us had ever even visited Central Washington when we loaded up our car with all of our belongings and bicycles, and set off on an epic cross country adventure last August.  We were filled with trepidation about the unknown, to say the least.

You may be wondering what it was that most comforted us on our 3,000 mile journey to our new, yet unseen home...It turns out that the answer was POTATO CHIPS!  Incidentally, Brian and I fancy ourselves to be somewhat of connoisseurs of the these golden, crispy, delightful little bits of heaven.  The original plan had been to try out a new type of chip in each of the states through which we crossed.  We started off going strong, but by about South Dakota, we realized it was a little gross to be consuming so much grease (gross, but delicious!), while doing nothing but sitting and driving all day long, so we tapered off a bit, haha.  Luckily, we still amassed what we consider to be a fine collection of varied flavors unique to several different states along the way.  The potato chips help to define our own personal moving story.  And, in the end, it turns out that we didn't need to be so worried to begin with.  Moving to this part of the country has been an eye-opening, extremely positive experience, that we wouldn't trade for anything.


Football Coaching Mementos

Lent by Bruce Walker

Migration within Division I Football and NFL Coaching

Coaches often lead a migratory life. Bruce Walker, CWU alum, was a college football coach for more than 20 years. He and his family, wife Sharryn and daughters Natalie and Maggie, moved from Ellensburg in 1996 where he had been coaching the Wildcats to the University of Toledo (UT) (OH). After spending five years coaching for the Rockets, Bruce and the majority of that staff moved to Columbia, MO to coach the University of Missouri (MU) Tigers under Head Coach Gary Pinkel.

It is said that as a Division I Football or NFL football coach, one can expect to move every three years, due to “moving up,” but most often because the coach or the whole staff is fired. When the UT staff moved to MU, 9 families with 19 children moved en mass. In 2015 Coach Pinkel retired, which left the rest of that staff without jobs. Two were rehired, but the rest dispersed to various universities. However, Bruce chose to retire in 2014, thus avoid being fired with the rest of the staff in 2015. The Walkers were fortunate to only move twice in the years Bruce coached.

Coaching at the Division I Football or NFL level is a type of migratory experience. Sometimes the coach and his family have a choice in where they want to live; however, many times the decision to move is encouraged by disgruntled athletic directors, general managers, alumni, and fans.


Paper Mementos
Lent by Diane Huckabay

Over the years I have kept a lot of paper! The paper items I submit for display are from people who came before me. As I research family for my own understanding and for future generations, I have grown to treasure these documents all the more.

These letters from my dad, Tom, to Nannette tell a story of my parents’ relationship before I was born. They were married in Spring of 1952. I have included the clipping of her marriage announcement in The Daily Oklahoman, on March 30th and a picture of them after the ceremony.

There is a picture of him with his training crew at Craig Air Force base in Alabama mentioned in the letters, and a Western Union telegraph (1953 text message?) they sent to my grandparents in Virginia when I was born. Her letter to him asks for a list she needs to write her thank-you notes and talks about a letter from Aunt Sisso, who is pictured as a child in the post card photo with my grandmother and their little brother in 1915.
Only three years ago I discovered my great grandmother’s handwriting on the back side, addressed to Mrs. Mumford, my great great grandmother. Before he moved to Oklahoma City, Tom was a disc jockey at WKLV, in Virginia. Nannette’s media photos from 1949 & 1962 and the Boeing 727 promotional photo with Dad second from right give a context of their activities.

Mom died in 1970 and I carried these things from Idaho to Seattle; I moved 8 times after that and another 5 times since Dad passed in 1999.

-Diane Huckabay

Ellensburg, January 2017


Hobby Horse: “Prizey”

Lent by Ellen Schattschneider

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have Prizey.  Was she a present from my grandparents, or Mom and Dad? I’m not sure, all I knew as a child is that she was always there.  She was by my bedside while I slept, ready when I woke to carry me away to explore in the fields or the woods, to canter along the stream or jumping over logs.  I never simply “walked” anywhere—I rode!

I remember her shiny red leather bridle which slowly became worn with time, little bits of leather flaking away until the whole bridle fell off—which was fine by me—I figured that now she was really free, like the mustangs on the prairie or the Arabians in the desert, and she still allowed me to ride her without it.

From time to time my mother would gently pry Prizey out of my hands to mend her snout, or patch the hole on her neck where it had begun to wear down to the straw stuffing.  My mother gently darned the holes, weaving a yarn patch where the hole once had been, all the time being careful not to “poke” Prizey’s nose.  I watched this process like a hawk, admonishing her when she got to close to Prizey’s soft delicate nose with the needle.  Gradually, when her mane fell out Mom replaced it with black yarn stitched along her neck, still as long, flowing and beautiful as her first mane.

As I look at the darned patches and new black yarn mane on Prizey I see each stitch as a message from my mother, a lesson in love, caring, and careful darning! Thank you, Mom—you are ever present in each stitch.

-Ellen Schattchneider, January 2017


Tarot Mementos
Lent by Nan Doolittle

The Tarot board, Tarot cards, and trunk belonged to my maternal great grandmother, Mary Lavinia McKay Crawford Kinney (GG Ma). Mary was born on February 11, 1880, in Hamilton, Ontario.  Like many women at the time, Mary did not have an advanced formal education. Talented on the piano and guitar, she played both well into later life. Mary had three children: Patrick, Margaret, and Lucy Eileen. The children were raised in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. In 1920, Mary divorced her husband and went to work in an attorney’s office.  Soon after, she began work for  the Registrar of Deeds.  She was a court reporter, secretary for the Farm Bureau, and secretary/treasurer of the Pathfinder Irrigation District. In 1931, at age 51, Mary moved to California to be closer to her daughters.

From her father, Dr. Andrew Thomas Crawford (b. 19 April 1851 in County Donegal, Ireland), Mary developed a lifelong interest in Eastern philosophy and religions. Andrew himself is fascinating.  His life experiences included being a farm laborer and express driver in Canada, and a country doctor on horseback in Banner and Scotts Bluff counties, Nebraska.  He was a member of the Theosophical Society and the Modern Woodsmen. While in Los Angeles, Mary professionally prepared astrological horoscopes for influential people as well as for each family member.

Our family story tells us that the Tarot board was painted in the 1930’s in southern California. When I was twenty (1973) and a new mother, I visited GG Ma in Oakland, California, and she gifted me the trunk. Mary was 93 at the time. A few years ago, I sorted through the trunk’s books, and sent most of the astrology books to Mary’s granddaughter, who was actively learning astrology.

Today, the trunk still holds magic for me. Opening it is like entering another world and time. GG  Ma held the tarot cards as she read them. I love the cards’ warm patina and smoothed corners.  GG Ma’s daughter, my grandmother Eileen, passed on the Tarot board to me a few decades ago. It has hung in my home ever since. I wonder if the Tarot deck was thrown on it. Who was the woman that painted the board? What stories does it hold?

The watercolor was painted by a friend of mine in 2002. We were participating in a spiritual retreat. As we meditated, we sat in a circle. Kristi, a watercolor artist, was across from me. During the meditation, I felt GG Ma’s presence behind my left shoulder. As part of Kristi’s meditation, she was painting. The watercolor is what she saw behind me. After the meditation came to an end, Kristi stated to me, “Your grandmother was here.” Kristi had never seen the photograph of GG Ma. GG Ma was eighteen when the photograph was taken.

GG  Ma was one of the pillars of my life when I was growing up. Her spirit continues to guide me. She died in 1977.


--Nan Doolitle,  December 2016


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