While objects, ‘things’, can never be as important to us as the people in our lives, we still feel a sense of loss when we lose them, or when they’re taken from us. It’s not really the item we’re upset about. Well, maybe initially it is. But not in the longer term. Because whatever it is, it can be replaced.
But what can never be replaced is the sentimental value associated with that piece of jewelry. Or scrapbook. Or punch bowl. Or photograph. Or whatever it is, that’s now gone. The story that goes along with it, the memories of how it came in to your life and what role it played, the new life it took on when it came into your possession; it’s not covered by insurance. Its value is not monetary.
Like my mother’s autograph book. She always loved ‘live’ entertainment, even as a young child. From the time I was little, I remember her telling me about going to movies and seeing a singer or dancer as part of the ticket price. She saw Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald. Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra when he was still a skinny kid, The Four Tops, you name them, she saw them.
The quintessential ‘groupie’, she always got autographs; and into her book they’d go. When she and my father were dating, going to nightclubs and supper clubs were among their favourite dates. Even when they were married, for that matter. She still collected autographs, which went into the book, but they were joined by photographs of her and my dad, and the group of friends they were with. In those days they had beautiful girls selling cigarettes and others snapping pictures table, after table. Wonderful mementos of my parents’ courtship, and life together.
When I was nine years old, I went to Florida, with my mom and dad. There wasn’t a direct flight at the time, so we had to fly through New York. Idlewild Airport (JFK), it was called then. We had a wait of a few hours before our next flight. My mother’s closest friend was an American girl who’d married a Canadian. Her sister, who lived in New York, came to the airport, with her husband, to keep us amused while we waited.
Because I was a kid, Lily thought I’d enjoy seeing the planes taking off and landing from the observation deck. While her husband kept my dad company she, my mother and I went up to the deck. All of a sudden my mother gasped, gave my arm a yank and pointed. “Look who’s over there”, she hissed. It was Harry Belafonte. I was way too young to know who he was. Or care. But she was beside herself. He did look very handsome, that I remember.
He was very, very tall, with amazing posture. Dressed to kill, too, in a suit and a gorgeous camel hair coat. I remember that he was standing right near the railing, waving a white hankie. Presumably at someone who was sitting in a plane, waiting, on the runway, for its turn to take off. I imagine it was a woman. It’s doubtful he’d be waving a hankie at another man. It was too romantic a gesture.
Anyway my mother told me to go over to him, and ask for his autograph. I died a thousand deaths. I was so painfully shy at that age, my preferred location, always, was standing behind my mother. Hidden away. “No”, I protested. “You do it”. We went back and forth and finally she won. Of course she won. I was only nine and she was my mother. So off I went. Every time I took another step forward, I’d stop and look behind me, silently begging her to let me off the hook.
She was having none of it.
Finally I found myself beside him. He looked down at me, smiled, and dropped down to one knee. So he didn’t have to bend over in half to talk to me, I guess. Quietly, he said, “Hello there. What can I do for you?” In a tiny, tiny voice I asked for his autograph. He smiled, rummaged around in his pockets looking for a pen and paper, and then asked for my name. Still whispering I explained that the autograph was for my mother, not for me.
Now with a huge grin on his face, he stood up, took my hand, and walked me over to where my mother and Lily were standing. He asked my mother for her name, wrote out the autograph, handed it to her, talked to us for a minute and left. I still can’t believe how gracious and kind he was. Needless to say, my mother remained a fan of his until the day she died. I went to more than a few of his concerts, myself.
But now that autograph book is gone. The last time we saw it was when my parents sold their house, after I moved out. That was a long time ago. We never did find out what happened to it. It could have fallen out of a box, been left behind in error, been taken by one of the movers. We’ll never know.
My mother was devastated. A huge portion of her life was in that book. She started it as a child, continued as a young woman, through her relationship with my dad, and even once I was around. There was at least part of a life story in there. One she would tell me over, and over again. I remember. She’d pull out the autograph book and we’d look at the autographs and the photographs. And then she’d tell me all the stories that went with each one. I never got tired of hearing them. Even when I was grown up.
As she told me, she’d be re-living those wonderful times in her life. And I’d be living them for the first time. With her. They were some of my favourite times with her.
The book itself is, sadly, irreplaceable. Impossible to put a price on. I’d sure love to have it now that my mother’s gone. But luckily, my memories are intact.