Unpurchasable Memories

There’ll be a box somewhere in your house – in the movies it’s often under the bed or up on a high shelf in the closet – with treasured letters and cards, keepsakes (nice name).

I have several packets of letters, but I’ve written about them before. They and the cards are part of people I have known and whose lives were intertwined with mine. Often they are people one has lost touch with. People who are no longer. Shades of the past.

It’s curious, even though we recognize the people portrayed, photographs are somehow more impersonal.  Unless I suppose one has written a date, a name, a place, or an occasion on the back. Notes and cards are more specific. They reflect the sender, reflect the receiver. Each piece of paper, each card, has a story of its own.  I hadn’t realized all this until I pulled out a couple of transparent plastic bags, of the kind used to keep frozen vegetables in, and scattered their contents over my desk. A hodgepodge of cards and notes, preserved, and in a sense frozen, over the years.

 You may say I’m a hoarder. Why else would I keep a Christmas card from who knows when all these years. The twelve days of Christmas winding their way in procession up and down and around the page. It wasn’t even addressed to me but I have always had a fondness for the twelve days and used to sing all twelve of them together with my sister.

There’s a Cezanne landscape that makes me think of Aciman and his short story, My Monet Moment. He was climbing the streets of Bordighera, searching for the specific spot from which the view on his kitchen calendar had been painted. It was not though by Cezanne, but by Monet. And he did eventually find it.

Aciman is still around, and obviously so am I. Memories of my sister now must be shared with her great granddaughter.  

A copy of Rilke’s poem, Before Summer Rain, takes me back to Jean, an intrepid young woman sent to Alaska when she was barely twenty to write about the Alaskan bush pilots. She had recently been honored on her 80th birthday and I was scheduled to visit her in San Francisco, but death beat me to it.  

That piece of paper patterned with vinous flowers, birds and butterflies, dated June 2000, is from Ashley. She thanks me for my teaching her and others Italian, so it must have been with the Clemson group where I accompanied them to the north of Italy together with their teacher, a former nun, who had a hard time convincing her Bible Belt students that it was OK to study paintings of nude ladies. Which of the students was Ashley though I don’t remember.

There’s a card with a Picasso painting from Danielle, a beautiful young woman, a student of mine, full of plans to help humanity, to become a nurse and do volunteer work overseas with Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders. A few years after she graduated, I received an invitation to her wedding in Paris, which must have been a fairy-tale affair, for her future husband proposed on a float in the Seine by candlelight and with violins playing. She had often come to my house in the country, and it was there that she had her first spring (so she said) with purple crocuses and golden daffodils marking the change in season. 

The several cards with botanical paintings always, always, had a heartfelt aphorism hand-written inside. Kay and Csaba, with whom I shared their over twenty years in Orvieto.

2018 “Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years.”

2/23/99 A lovely Chinese peony and written inside

“How can I thank you … Let me count the ways –

There are no formulas to count the ways —so, they are . . . there in unpurchasable memories.”

Could only have been Kay.

I like that: “unpurchasable memories.”

These are all unpurchasable memories, renewed as I pull them out one by one.

9 thoughts on “Unpurchasable Memories

  1. A remarkable and rich tour through time Erika made richer by your generous and vivid memories of each correspondent!
    ❤️j 1


  2. I found your blog, dear Erika! Thanks for telling me how to find you. I enjoyed our chat today very much.


  3. I can relate to everything here, and I am very glad to have heard and read it. In my “Letters to Men of Letters” I write about the power of the letter, whether sent or unsent, so this is a topic that speaks to my heart. I was pleased that a box of my saved letters helped my historian friend write her book that discussed my relationship with someone who later became a public figure. Sometimes to be a hoarder of “keepsakes” can be helpful to others. Btw, I am so happy to be reminded of this word. I often use the synonym “touchstones“ which is not quite the same.

    I am taking note of this lovely birthday greeting that is in harmony with my newfound interest in mindfulness:

    “Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years.”

    And then perhaps best of all, the image of “unpurchasable memories” which applies so perfectly to my forever friendship with Erika.🩵✍️📬


  4. Cara, lovely to read and recollect these gentle reflections – via Mark. Should you care to share your “ pensieri “ with us, our e mail address is Abbracci fortissimi. Csaba


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