The word “lost” can mean so many things, conjure up so many images and ideas, and have so many associations: lost innocence, lost child, lost chance.
I have lost many things during my life, some through my own fault, some not. What surprises me at this point in life is not how much regret the loss of these things has caused, but how little.
Some things that were once precious to me were lost through deliberate or inadvertent carelessness. As an experiment I once buried a beloved stuffed bunny rabbit. In college I washed a treasured patchwork quilt sewn by my grandmother in cruel commercial washing machines; the resulting ragged heap I dismissed as a hopeless case and threw out.
Many things were lost in numerous moves when I was young. It was as though a part of my life was being continually peeled away, not like excess off the top, but cut from deeper, more dearly held layers of my life. Most of my childhood toys disappeared. Where is the toybox my father made for me? By the time we moved to Texas, there were no dolls left, except for my poor put-upon, hair-ratted-to-death Barbie doll and her fab early-1960s clothes (the black torch singer outfit was to die for), and Mom sold her off with any other stray toys that were left (not that I blame her), with the sole exception being my Spirograph.
Only one of my pre-college books is left: The 1965 Webster's New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary given to me by my mother.
There were many things that got lost when I had to quickly clear out Mom’s apartment after she died. Years later, two of my cousins kindly sent me personal items that my aunt had recovered after my not-so-thorough sifting through Mom’s things. One was my old scrapbook from junior high school and high school.
Other things have been lost in a rush to get things done, to attend to business, while what I thought were “minor details” were ignored and their significance only remembered when it was too late.
There was an old photo album, one of four I inherited from my mother; it was outsized and not easily stored on a shelf with the other three. Once, when my Aunt Joy came to visit in the 1990s, I took it out to show her some photos and have her identify some of the people in them. After she left, I must have carelessly set it aside (this was before my obsession with genealogy had truly taken root). Many hours have been spent searching for that album.
I was very lucky in later years, after I had let physical distance lead to loss of contact with relatives, that my cousins began to get back in touch with me. The contact became even more frequent after the genealogy bug hit. Gradually, through letters, e-mails, and Facebook we caught up with one another and traded memories and scanned pictures. With few exceptions, my cousins and I are now the “oldest” generation – the keepers of the memories - in our families. I sometimes wonder whether my search for “lost” and “orphan” relatives is an attempt to make up for every stupid thing I’ve done, every chance I’ve thrown away, every connection I’ve thoughtlessly sundered.
In the midst of the accumulated junk of the last 30 years of my life, things that I am trying to pare down to a minimum, which of the lost items of my past do I truly regret?
Just two – Grandma’s quilt and that old photo album. The rest of the things must not have been that essential, and their loss just makes the few items I have managed to hold on to even more precious.
That quilt will always haunt me, and I am still searching for that photo album.