My mother’s parents were not particularly religious Italian Catholics, but saints were everywhere in their home. A kitchen calendar featured a monthly rotation of saints carrying out miracles. St. Anthony sat on the dashboard of my grandfather’s car, presiding over road arguments. A small saint wearing bishop red lurked within a sunroom planter, parting his arms in the tiny jungle he inhabited. Listen carefully as either of my grandparents walked into a room and you’d hear the faint sound of a saint’s medal hitting a cross around their neck.
Saints didn’t live in our house, but the lingering superstition that went with them did. When I was born, my grandfather tied a red ribbon around my cradle. It made its way to the frame of my crib and then to the box spring of my childhood bed. Sometimes my mother would tuck a similar ribbon into my coat pocket. I sensed that she only half-believed in them but felt better that they were there.
Maybe that was behind her thinking when she bought me a personal alarm to put on my key ring. The black plastic item is bulky and never allows my keys to rest comfortably in my bag or hand, so at first, I didn’t keep it on my ring. I thought my mother wouldn’t notice, but she eyed my keys every time I saw her and asked where it was. I eventually gave in.
I worry that one day the alarm will go off on its own when I’m in an enclosed space with lots of other people, like a train car, and it will deafen us all. Even if I somehow felt compelled to use it, I’m not completely sure how to operate it. The general principle seems to be that you pull it apart, grenade-like, and it emits a high-decibel noise. In a city where everyone ignores everything, it’s probably not of much use.
Still, it stays on my keys. There’s an embossed emoticon on one side — a serenely smiling square with an antenna on its head, broadcasting safety to me. Not quite a saint, but a sort of secular, security-oriented talisman.
Key Ring Chronicles is a crowd-sourced project that explores the stories behind objects that people keep on their key rings. It was created and is overseen by Paul Lukas, who has kept a quarter with a hole drilled through it on his own key ring since 1987. Readers are encouraged to participate by sending photos and descriptions here.