Brand building through storytelling

Losing it

I once owned a man’s silk paisley scarf in burgundy, cream and navy blue. It was the kind of thing that looks expected on a silver-haired guy in pin-stripes, but playful on a 30-something woman in jeans and a T-shirt. I wore that scarf so often that it smelled of my favourite scent and felt like an extension of my skin. One day I wore it to a movie. Halfway home, I realized that I’d left it on the seat. I rushed back but no one had seen a paisley scarf. Something plummeted inside when I knew for sure that I had lost it.

If all the stuff I’ve left behind could be magically reassembled, it would reflect every stage of my life. My first loathed pair of glasses from grade-school days. My son Ben’s first baby picture, forgotten in the maternity ward. A funky silver ring last seen in a house we sold long ago. I hadn’t worn the ring for years but I wanted to give it to my niece. She was in her teens then, about the age I’d been when I cleaned out my wallet to buy that ring on my first trip to Greenwich Village.

I think of myself as an organized person, but the things I’ve lost reveal my inner scatterbrain. One Saturday, dreaming of homemade vegetable soup, I made a special trip to buy the freshest, most fragrant produce, then left the bag on the subway. That’s what dreaming will do and it runs in the family. My grandfather, born and raised in a Russian village, landed in Manhattan and couldn’t believe his eyes. He dropped the suitcase that held his worldly goods and stood there, gawking. One minute later, no suitcase.

When it comes to lost luggage, Grandpa’s was pretty small time. Mrs. Ernest Hemingway had a legendary suitcase that contained the better part of her husband’s first book. On the train from Paris to Lausanne, where the couple were to rendezvous, she lost it. In time the marriage too was lost.

To lose is human, and every lost and found teems with proof: embrellas, notebooks, forlorn single gloves. It all looks so replaceable but you never know. One memorable week when Ben was five and had lost his stuffed mouse on the subway, I made three futile visits to the transit system’s lost and found. Each time I gave the same description of Mousie: hole in cheek, fur worn thin from hugging. At last the attendant said, “Sounds like this mouse was in pretty rough shape. Someone probably threw it in the trash.” I guess so. But I still remember how my son wailed, “Mousie!” as the train sped down the tunnel.

Today Ben hardly remembers Mousie. Hemingway wrote other books and married other women. My grandfather made it safely to the Canadian prairies, where he lost a number of businesses and his first-born child but not his gentle spirit. To lose and go on is the story of every life, in the deepest sense. So I’ve come to see the loss of possessions as a kind of dress rehearsal for the harder losses: home, health, people you love. Now that I have lost both of my parents and a couple of friends, I have a heightened sense of gratitude for the things that surround me. I’ve bought them because they made me smile, received them because someone cared about me or chosen to keep them through the years, each in its accustomed place, because they create a sense of rootedness that is the next best thing to permanence.

I could buy a paisley scarf just like the one I lost. The accessory market for distinguished older men doesn’t change a lot over time. But I’ve changed, and part of that change has been learning to remember lost things with affection instead of trying to recapture them. I’m not quite there yet. But at the rate things slip through my fingers, I know I’ll get plenty of practice.

First published in Chatelaine, May 2003. Copyright by Rogers Media Publishing. Post-script: after this column appeared, a reader sent me a photo of a man’s silk paisley scarf she had found somewhere. She offered to send it to me. But this scarf had never been mine and it wouldn’t do.


Posted by Rona

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