Monday, April 19, 2010

Memory Monday: Lost Things

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.


  1. Greta,
    I really enjoyed this post. It made me think about a chance I turned down which I will always regret. My Great Uncle asked if I wanted his wife's slides, projector and screen. I turned him down because I didn't think I had room. His wife took MANY family pictures which she had on slide with her MANY MANY vacation slides. After he died much too late I asked about these and an Aunt had thrown them away without going through them (she didn't know who all the people were and there were far to many of them).
    Forever Lost Family Treasures!!

  2. A great reminder to us all, Greta, to be diligent in protecting those items that come down to us from our family members. I loved your post. And my heart cries for that old quilt ~ I remember there was one my grandmother Gailey made that was in so many shredded pieces, we made little Santa bags out of some of it to place on wooden handmade Santas. We gave one to all of our kids.

  3. I had a Spirograph, too! (and wish I still had it)

  4. I loved this post Greta because I can relate to a lot of what you said and I too had a Spirograph that I had completely forgotten about until I saw your picture. I don't know how I could have forgotten it...I played with it for years!!

  5. Greta, is it possible that your aunt has the scrapbook? I sometimes loan things and forget that I did....

  6. Harriet - You know, I think what we need is a time machine. Then we could go back in time to tell our heedless younger selves what a stupid thing we were doing!

    Judy - At least your grandmother Gailey's quilt survived in a different form. It would have been worth saving just the rags that were left of my grandmother's quilt. Sigh...

    Miriam - Now that I think of it, if I were to have just one toy that survived, the Spirograph is a good one because I can still play with it. (Though I still have problems with the circles slipping off the pegs.)

    Sharon - My daughters were actually kind of in awe that I had a toy like this, so I guess some of my youthful dorkiness was redeemed in their eyes.

    Nancy - Unfortunately my Aunt died a while back. She came out from California to visit, so I'm pretty sure she didn't take it back, and I think I remember trying to match my scribbled notes to the pictures after she left. I'm hoping that it did something like slip under a heavy dresser (I plan to do some heavy cleaning around the dresser as an excuse to get my husband to move it.)

  7. Oh Greta, I hear you on this one. As a little girl I had been given a coin purse by my paternal grandmother - it was one of those metal linked one's from the '30s. I was only 9 when it was stolen from my desk at school. Just a few years back I bought a similar one for myself from an antique store, but it'll never be the actual one! It's tough!! :-)

  8. Leah - I had forgotten about some things that I have made those "replacement purchases" for! What a strong hold some things have on us!