Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lost and Found Department

I know I'm not the only one who has experienced overwhelming loss -- the crushing grief of sadness that confounds the mind to comprehend how deeply an emotion can render oneself completely incapacitated.

Dear reader, you might need to reach for a tissue box as I recount some of my losses.

On second thought, actually I won't. Those are things too difficult for me to express, and require meaningful words and literary skills that I don't possess to thoughtfully compose, so I'll tell you about a few less gut-wrenching things I've lost (or found!) instead.

In our early days of home ownership we belonged to the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association.  It was a suburb of Omaha that was 'in transition'.  Senior homeowners were the majority, but as the changing economy of the nearby stockyards waned, smaller local businesses failed and the middle class neighborhood was at the tipping point of failure and depression.  We were part of the new generation of families moving in, with renewed energy and enthusiasm sparking entrepreneurship and neighborhood pride.  Thus we went to regular meetings with like-minded neighbors and community leaders.  After one evening meeting, I was on my way home after dark, riding my 49cc Honda Hobbit moped. A stuttering start, too quick an acceleration, and poor handling landed me face-first onto the dark roadway.  Stunned, hurt, and bleeding, I pushed the moped off me and saw half of my front tooth glistening on the pavement.  I could feel the warmth of blood running down my face, and a jabbing pain in my leg, so I flagged down the next passing car which took me home.  I left the moped (and a few layers of skin) in the middle of the road.

My injuries didn't require medical attention (until later when wound infection took hold), but I was hurting.  I know that people lose limbs, eyes, and best friends to war, so I can't complain or compare to those who have suffered grave injuries for far more heroic reasons, but for me this was just so devastating: I'd lost a tooth!

An early morning visit to the dentist revealed that he couldn't save the tooth, and would have to perform a root canal and later cap it.  It'd be good as new.  He did the root canal, and told me to return in a month when all my other injuries healed to finish the job.  Meanwhile, for cosmetics, he'd glue the broken-off fragment to what remained rooted so I wouldn't be gap-smiling and snaggle-toothed.

But I never returned.  My overwhelming phobia of dental procedures prevented me from making that follow-up visit. Predictably, the short-term fix didn't last.  Months later when we were out to supper with our good friends, Barb and Dave Henney, the tooth broke off again.  But Barb is a good friend (the kind who holds your hair when you drink too much and have to vomit into a shrub late at night in a bad part of town) and will cheerfully and willingly interrupt a rare adult night out to stop and buy you a tube of Crazy Glue so you can put your tooth back in place.  That's the kind of friendship I hope to never lose.

Eventually, I forced myself to revisit the dentist, whose X-ray revealed damage to the underlying bone, requiring oral surgery and a complete loss of the tooth.  My smile, though now changed, is not lost; my fear of dental procedures, though, will never fade.

Another time when a loss left me crushed was when I looked down to see an empty setting on my engagement ring.  At a time in our lives when we certainly couldn't afford a replacement diamond, we scanned the floors of the house and emptied the vacuum cleaner bag searching, but found nothing.  Stephen promised me that at some point he'd put one back on my finger.  Then he left for work.

He was still in the US Air Force at this time, and on this particular day instead of going to his office, he found himself assigned to a clean-up detail for litter patrol around the Air Force base -- an annual chore that everyone eventually had to do.  He spent the day outdoors on the side of the road, around parking lots, and behind buildings, stooping and picking up spent cigarettes, wrappers, and general debris, growing hot and tired as the day wore on.  A particular annoyance was a pebble that had worked its way into his boot, and he found himself repeatedly kicking the ground to keep it at the toe of his boot, rather than taking the time in the hot sun to stop, unlace his boot, shake it out, and lace it all back up again.

When he came home at the end of his long day, he finally and with relief took off his boots, describing how cross he'd become over that irritation added to his already menial work day.  As he dumped his boot out, a small white diamond fell out.

Something we all lose from time to time is a memory.  Years ago when we were first getting acquainted with Karin Bach and Tim Isaac, we visited them several times as they were building their home.  Our pop-ins were usually unannounced, and they would willingly interrupt their work for a short while as we visited. Karin is a hard worker, and we always left them feeling unworthy and exhausted.  In between her work creating fantastic sculpture and art for sale in her studio, she would be pegging beams for the construction of their house, pouring cement floors, nursing exquisite plants and flowers in her garden beds, all while being savagely attacked by the unrelenting black flies and mosquitoes of the summer season.  She never seemed to stop.

But something small and out-of-the-way caught my eye on one of these visits, and it drove me to complete distraction. It was a small, thin, black cast-iron ashtray in the shape of a fish. Seeing it stirred some vaguely familiar image in my mind that I couldn't quite identify.  Was it from my dreams, or a vintage household item? I just couldn't place it.  Finally I interrupted our conversation to ask about it.  "Get a load of that fish!" I said.  Karin stubbed out her cigarette into it, looked up at me, and asked smiling, "Do you want it back?"

AH HA!  It was from the deep recesses of my memory; it was from my home years ago.  It all came back to me.  We had two of those ashtrays while I was growing up; they were from Mrs. Prouty's estate back in the 1950s, and my grandfather gave them to my mother, who smoked in those days.  Decades later when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer (and immediately quit smoking), all the ashtrays were stored away.  Many years later, Dad gave them to Karin as a keepsake. Much of her pottery and sculpture work features elaborate fish designs, so the fish-shaped item seemed apt. I'd rather she used it for a candy dish.

One memory I'd lost completely was brought back to me when our son, Andrew, recounted a most loving maternal memory he had stored away.  He remembers from when he was very young:

"We were at one of Daddy's company picnics (we call them 'forced fun events')  Justin and I were playing on the playground equipment and Justin had a crush on a girl there. He pointed her out on a slide and told me to watch out, because if she looked at you twice, you'd turn into the Devil. I was young enough to believe anything my older brother said and I was very concerned. I needed to know if it was twice over the course of the day or if a double take would do me in, or just twice overall, ever.  I hid behind a tree for a while until the coast was clear and lost some quality playground time.

"When the devil-inducing girl was finally gone I found you guys eating in the indoor area. Sobbing, I told you about the incident and with motherly concern you grabbed my skull and began examining it. I was eagerly awaiting the "all clear", but instead you parted my hair and gasped, saying that you were pretty sure that you saw horns growing.
I hate that I didn't remember that story.  I'm sure with four children there are countless things they recall that I have no recollection -- no doubt, a series of lost memories.

Our longtime family friend and Maritime artist Rod MacKay first met my folks in Sussex at least thirty-five years ago; we have a lot of his art hanging at Cleveland Place.  One in pride of place in the living room is titled "Huginn and Muninn."

They are two ravens that were taught speech by the Norse god Odin.  The legend tells that Odin would send Huginn (the Norse word for "thought") and Muninn ("memory") all over the world, and each day they would return to his shoulder and tell him what they learned and saw.  Concerned that one day they might not return, for being lost or harmed, Odin declared that he wouldn't mind losing Thought, but he'd hate to lose Memory. 

But really, not much is forever lost; there are only four things that will never come back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, neglected opportunity, and time past.

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