The Things That Got Away

On a prior post, I wrote about trying to edit all my stuff and lighten my Marley’s Ghost style load just a little bit.  Be that as it may, there are possessions, things I owned, that I have, over the years, lost, tossed, given away, sold, or even destroyed that I still miss.  Some of them “got away” because I believed that I no longer wanted them (big mistake!); others because of misfortune; still others are a mystery–I have no idea how they disappeared.  But I still think of them.

One such possession came back to my mind yesterday when I went to a writing group’s member’s house for a lovely lunch she was having for our group (she is an extraordinary cook and we all like to talk, so the whole thing was a delicious treat).  I noticed in her office/study an actual typewriter, a big IBM, I think.  I used to have an IBM proportionally spaced Selectric typewriter, one of the really massive ones, with the whirling typeball and the world’s best keyboard touch.  I can’t remember the exact name of the model, but it was designed to make typewriting look like print, using mylar/carbon ribbons and that wonderful strike.  You could change the typeballs quite easily to change fonts, it had incremental spacing both horizontally and vertically, and it was just the best typewriter ever invented.  I loved that thing and still miss it.  It was, however, huge, and at that time in my life, space was at a premium.  It did not seem sensible to keep a typewriter after I had found the money and the space for a computer and a printer.  It still doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop me missing my beautiful IBM typewriter.  And, of course, at that time, such machines were not dinosaurs, they were still useful.  I got quite a bit of money for it, and that came in handy, too.

English: IBM Selectric II dual Latin/Hebrew Ha...

IBM Selectric Typeball--Image via Wikipedia

When I lived in my California house, I had three genuine Stickley oak rockers.  They had been reupholstered during their lifetimes in a really horrible and prickly green plush (instead of their original leather), but the wood was beautiful and they were comfortable and sturdy.  The Stickley logo, which was actually a brand, was on all three pieces of furniture.  I reupholstered them again, but not in leather, which I could not afford, but in a kind of William Morris-y woven damask that I liked at the time.  When I decided to sell my house and go on my next adventure, for some reason that still passes any possibility of understanding, I not only sold my oak rolltop computer desk (what was I thinking?), but sold at auction those three Stickley rockers (really!  what WAS I thinking???).  I don’t even remember what amount of money I realized from that sale, but it can’t even remotely be equivalent to what they were worth, even reupholstered, let alone what they were worth in intangibles to me, for I had inherited them to start with.   They cannot be replaced, even though there is a Stickley store in Denver, because while the modern stuff is nice, it’s just not the same.  What was I THINKING?

During the clean sweep begun by my decision to sell that house, I disposed of several things that I still think I was right to get rid of, and the money really helped.  But there are still some regrets, such as selling my Fiestaware.  For those that don’t know, Fiestaware is a kind of pottery that is very simple and gets a good deal of its appeal because of the brilliant colors the manufacturers use for the glaze.  I bought my set when Fiestaware came back into prominence in the nineties, and I decided to sell it because the set was in four pastel colors and it was simply too, well, tentative, sort of Fiestaware-lite.  The traditional Fiestaware came in brilliant, deep colors whose very names were delicious, like cobalt, tangerine, maroon, forest and many others.  I don’t regret too much selling the pastels, but I find that I wish I’d bought antique Fiestaware or the new versions of the brilliant and deep colors.  The design is classic and the dishes are functional, sturdy and go with the kind of decor I’m moving toward–mission-y, a little rustic, with touches of older stuff.  My everyday dishes now are white, with a set of red for accent, and I have a small set of Johnson Bros.  Old English Castles.  I’m very fond of this and don’t wish to change, but I still wish I’d stuck with Fiestaware and just gotten more of the deep and bright colors over time.

English: Fiestaware Photo credit: Eric B. Norm...

Fiestaware--Image via Wikipedia

But some losses do not bring minor regret.  Losing my Daddy’s Bibles, well, the experience of that loss is something I will never get over.  I called them Daddy’s Bibles, but one of the small books was a King James Bible and the other was a Treasury of the Sacred Heart, which is, I believe, a Roman Catholic prayer book.  He bought them in Jerusalem during a leave from his work as an Army Major in what was then Persia during World War II.  The books were leather bound, and each had a cover applied to them made of olive wood, incised with a cross.  He was told that the olive wood came from the olive groves on Golgotha, but of course he had no way of knowing if that was so.  The endpapers of both books were inscribed by friends he had met either in Persia or in Jerusalem.  I can remember parts of only one inscription, which was set on the front endpaper of the small prayer book, across from the engraved picture of Jesus Christ showing his Sacred Heart (which is a heart with a perpetual flame on the top of it).  To the best of my memory, it states (partially, I’m afraid):  “Just as this book brought together a Catholic priest, a Protestant man and an Arab boy in _________ [I can’t remember this part, but I think he wrote something like “conversation and understanding”], so may this War bring together all the people of the Earth in a new beginning [I’m also not sure of the “beginning” part, but that was the effect the words had on me].”  It was signed with the appellation “Father”, but I can’t now remember the name of the person signing (or perhaps it was not a very legible signature, as so many aren’t).  Obviously, the person writing the inscription was the Catholic priest, my father was the Protestant man, and who the Arab boy was it is impossible for me to know, but oh I wish I could have heard the conversations the inscription discusses. I would love to (and never will) know what happened and why, and what part that very small book played.  I’m glad to have written down my best memory of the inscription because this is a memory I do not want ever to lose, as I lost those treasured books.

English: Olive Blossoms outside Jerusalem.

Olive Blossoms Outside Jerusalem--Image via Wikipedia

I lost them because I left my husband.  I put them in the duffel bag that held some clothes and the things that I could not part with, even for a little while, that I took with me when I left.  Since I was more or less staying with different friends each night (when I say I left my husband, I mean I walked out the door, with absolutely no plan for the next five minutes, let alone the future), I kept the duffel bag in my car.  Unfortunately it was in the back seat on the one and only time in my life I was robbed.  I didn’t mind losing the clothes or anything else, but losing those books was more than I could bear.  Coming so quickly after the devastation of ending a marriage, the loss of Daddy’s Bibles flattened me and seemed to symbolize all the losses I’d ever had and all the foolish things I’d done to help those losses happen.  It still does.

But let’s end this essay on a somewhat lighter note.  In everybody’s life, there seems to be a kind of black hole, down which household items simply disappear, never to be seen again.  Most of us who have an automatic washer and dryer have one of these black holes, which eats socks (only one of a pair, of course, otherwise we would never know), or the only pillowcase that actually fits that odd but really comfortable pillow.  I have one of those, but I also have a black hole into which books or magazines or notebooks or documents disappear.  For example, I bought, from Dover Publications, a book of houseplans which had originally been commissioned by one of those “shelter” magazines in the 1930s.  The main portion of the book detailed four houses, quite imaginary, commissioned from then-current architects and decorators, to fit certain imaginary pieces of land set theoretically in various places in the country.  I loved reading the descriptions of a bygone era in home architecture and decoration; what the architects and decorators found important and what they didn’t even address; and the four plans were beautiful.  And that book, which I would never have given away, lent, sold or tossed, is simply gone.  When sorting through all my books last spring, I specifically looked for that one and it is just not there.  I have searched through the Dover website, and I can’t find a replacement.  Perhaps I made up the whole thing, but I don’t think so.  I still miss that book.  I’ve also lost, down that same black hole, the only copies of several research papers I was rather proud of, papers I wrote before computers during a student time when I didn’t have the money to get the papers copied (Xerox copies used to cost a lot of money per sheet, like faxes still do) and of course I didn’t use a carbon.  I would like to have those papers again, perhaps because I’d like to revisit that student, that girl, I used to be.  I once created an entire rhetorical system for a class in modern rhetoric I took at CSU.  I cannot remember at all what that system consisted of and I’d like to.  It earned me an A+, so it couldn’t have been really silly.  And I have no memory of what I said in that paper.  None.  Oh well, it’s not like what I wrote was the secret to cold fusion or anything.  At least I don’t think so.

So, even while I attempt to find satisfaction with fewer possessions, there will always be “the stuff that got away.”  Whether because of happenstance, black hole, bad decision or an unforeseen devastating loss, all of us, I believe, have things that were more than things that live now only in memory and the loss of which we mourn.

2 responses

  1. Three books that fell into the black hole that I regret losing: (1) a copy of Harlan Ellison’s “Again Dangerous Visions,” with one of the stories signed by its author (who at the time was the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America); (2) a paperback of the German translation of Harlan’s story collection “Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man” (in German: “Bereue, Harlekin, sagte der Ticktackmann”)–signed by Harlan. The universe obviously doesn’t want me to collect Harlan Ellison. The third book was a beautifully illustrated copy of a collection of Eugene Field’s poems. He wrote, among other things, “The Gingham Dog and the Callico Cat,” and “Wynken, Blynken and Nod.” He wrote only children’s poems. I THREW IT AWAY when I was about 12 in a fit of being too old for that kind of thing. Sigh.

    Of course, none of them is as important as the bibles from your father. You’ve told me of this, but I still feel so bad about it.

    • I have an autographed copy of one later anthology of Harlan Ellison’s work. I will not part with it. I’m sorry you lost two of his works. He has a gift. And I’m very sorry about the poetry, with illustrations. I like children’s books more now than I ever did when I was a child.

      As to my father’s bibles, yes, I do too. They may have been merelyt hings, but they were things touched with a kind of glory.

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