“Amy Marley didn’t keep a scrapbook, but instead tossed family photographs into an old suitcase, trusting memory to match each treasured image with its story.”
I’ve been treasure hunting.
At a series of events celebrating the publication of my novella The Playgroup, part of the Gemma Open Door series to promote adult literacy, I’ve asked my guests—many of them cherished friends—to write about a treasure they’ve lost or found, loved and given away.
They wrote of favorite toys and foolproof hiding places, of best friends and garages that doubled as theatrical stages, play schools and skating rinks. They described the “Lefty Gomez” baseball bat bought by an uncle at a Yankees double-header, and the closet containing go-go boots, ballroom dancing dresses, a cap gun, and a box full of mysterious keys. They recounted the tale of the doll that fled Germany during World War II, companion to a young girl whose father had been killed. They lamented the quartz citrine engagement ring lost by a great-grandmother in the Mississippi mud, found by a grandmother planting okra 50 years later, and stolen from the granddaughter who inherited it when she turned 18.
These friends told of losing a mother and finding her in a daughter, and of the “gift” of partnering in business with a beloved father. They fondly remembered books and new school shoes, Devil’s food birthday cake with meringue icing, heart-shaped notes left by a 1st-grade classroom elf called Tiny, and a favorite photo of their face-painted kids at a carnival. They wrote of backyard magic kingdoms “full of twisty-turny vines and tall trees” and of the “primeval forest” bordering the bat-infested mansion of the neighborhood witch, a house revealed in hindsight to be an ordinary structure observed by a solitary tree.
These stories move me. They’re like scattered sherds dug up from our shared provenience, pieces I ache to put together again. As my friend Frances (next to me in the photo, above) says of that stolen citrine engagement ring, “I imagine someone, somewhere, loves the family treasure that I lost. Maybe one day I’ll make a replica of it for my girls.” Isn’t that what we do when we remember, and when we write about what we find?