It’s the lost things that are best remembered, especially when it comes to books. There are exceptions, but few. I remember with regret a beautifully turned salad bowl, the best thing by far I ever achieved in Woodwork. Before, I’d brought home a poorly made bookshelf, and a mahogany crucifix (well, the cross at least) but the salad bowl was my pride and joy. Unfortunately, my parents persuaded me to give it away to the domestic science teacher who’d coached me prior to me entering Catering College. I’ve forgotten the teacher’s name, but not the salad bowl.
But books are the thing; the memories, sharp niggles that catch me every now and again. There are three, in particular, all lost during the traumatic house move from Newport to Monmouth. One was ‘The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce,’ an old hardback bought from a second-hand bookshop. I’ve since bought it on kindle but it’s not the same. Another was a lavishly produced coffee table book of photos portraying Long Island. It was a gift from Bud and Edith, two incredibly generous New Yorkers who took me under their wing when I was in New York and came over to visit us in Newport some years later. At the time, the book aroused little interest though obviously, I was appreciative. I’m still not that keen on coffee table books, but what I regret most is the tangible memory. You pass a book, or your glance alights on it, and the memory floods back—especially the generosity of those who gave it to you. They’re dead now, but I’d still have the book had I not been so careless.
The final item lost in that house move was the 1982 St Agnes Academic School for Girls Yearbook. It was given to me at the end of my teacher exchange and had the names and photos of every girl I taught that year. It also had a photo of me grinning like a fool. I remember many of the names and faces but am horribly aware that more have gone through the memory-plughole.
There are two other things I regret losing, both conscious but badly judged actions. My dad sewed and stitched a green canvas shoulder bag for me when I first left home for university—skills he had learned at sea. It went everywhere with me, for a long time holding a mandolin until I was able to afford a proper case. And then, I decided I no longer needed it and so it was binned. With age, you better appreciate the importance of things.
The final small treasure I consciously binned was an old white plastic, leather-effect briefcase with a broken zip. What was important was not the case but what it held, two or three years of trans-Atlantic letters from my distant cousin in Seattle. We’d been penfriends since our teens.
The catalyst for that particular act was, ironically, after a visit to see her and her family at her home in Seattle. It was Christmas, and a wonderful, never forgotten experience. But when talk turned to our years of correspondence, she told me cheerfully that she’d thrown my letters away or at least never kept them, which amounts to much the same thing. But then why keep them? I wasn’t Virginia Woolf (thank God) And yet it rankled, bruised ego perhaps. So, in another, earlier house move the plastic case with its trove of letters went. What rubbish, I thought, keeping old, adolescent letters. And how badly wrong both of us were. What a treasure trove of memories was lost.
Then again, putting regret into perspective, everything is lost in time—the greatest, most rapacious thief of all.