Queen of Nostalgia

In real life, my given name is Rhena. My dad was the one who chose it when he found it in a biography of Albert Schweitzer, who gave it to his daughter too.

I lived for a year in a dorm in London while I attended Goldsmith’s College and one of my dorm-mates was a woman from Germany who was majoring in Spanish. She’d read my name outside my room several times and one day, she finally said, “I’m saying your name wrong, aren’t I?” I started to explain that it’s the same as the Spanish word for queen but the look on her face as she looked at the letters comprising my name told me that this didn’t compute. “Just read it like you’re reading German.”

A lightbulb went off for her and she never mispronounced my name again. In Spanish, it’s spelled Reina although I’ve know people who spell it: Reyna, Rayna, Raina, and even Rehna.

I’ve never found a keychain or a beaded necklace or barrettes with my name on it on any souvenir store in America, or anywhere for that matter. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I don’t know how many wire racks I’ve slowly spun, by-passing Rachel and then Rebecca before giving up at Sarah.

And so it’s not without a little thrill that I’ve enjoyed the rise of women calling each other “Queen” to show support in public spaces.

And perhaps that’s part of why I signed up for a monthly “Queen of Yarn” enamel pin club. I’m not an impulse purchase person. And I don’t tend to buy things that feel frivolous. I don’t buy things that feel purely decorative to me. Turns out these pins didn’t. They felt affirming and charming and a little (maybe a lot) nostalgic.

I grew up in the era when groups of kids would gather on the school playground to swap and admire sticker collections. Back then, I never would have thought about the person or people behind designing and producing the stickers. It was purely aesthetic: the colors, the images, the textures, and sometimes even the smell of them. And it was, of course, the coming together with other kids in mutual appreciation.

The Queen of Yarn enamel pin club recalls all of that and then some, because now I get to know a little bit about the creator behind them. (Turns out that we both grew up in DC!) Her details — the colors, the inclusion of the phrase “Queen of Yarn” and, of course, the little skeins of yarn in unexpected places — in her designs recall that same sort of simple childhood feeling of delight and surprise that is, frankly, rather hard to summon up these days. And, of course, the little handwritten notes are a reminder that there’s a person behind these pins. It’s an equally imperative reminder.

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