Today’s challenge: Tell a story of your most prized possession. Today’s Twist: Go long!
This is the final post for the Writing 101 Challenge. Hope you have enjoyed reading some of them; I have enjoyed writing them!
When you lose every earthly possession, the words “most prized possession” have a lot more intensity. Fire destroyed a portion of the home I was living when I was in my 20’s; most of the damage was sustained on the second and third floor of the house, the third floor was partially incinerated. My bedroom was on the third floor.
A frantic phone call from a neighbor informed me that I needed to come home from work immediately. After an agonizing wait for the bus and a bus ride spent trying not to sob out loud, I arrived home to see a smoldering shell and my distraught parents and siblings. Fortunately for all of us no one was injured in the fire, the damage was only to the house and its contents. Everything on the third floor and some things on the second floor were destroyed by the fire. What was not burned was soaking wet or smoke damaged, ruined as a result of the firefighters efforts to extinguish the flames and save the house. My sole, remaining possession was the outfit I had worn to work that day. Yes, “most prized possession” has a different sound to someone who has lost everything.
Most possessions and household items were destroyed that day by fire, water or smoke, some replaceable, some not. Over time, different possessions were acquired. To be honest, a few of the replacement pieces were actually better than some of the furnishings that had been burned. The house was restored, rebuilt and completely refurnished. But there were many things that simply could not be replaced; photographs, family heirlooms, and special gifts; different things that had little or no dollar value but were priceless to all our hearts.
Time is a great healer and I am sure that many of the items I couldn’t replace, that I mourned for that day, have been forgotten. Time has also altered my perception of value and what is meaningful to me. But there were a few things lost that day that were so special they still linger in my memory and my heart still hurts whenever I think of them.
One of my “most prized possessions” destroyed in the flames that day was a special vinyl recording, a record album. My entire record collection melted in the fire. I was left with a surreal collection of Dali imitations, my beloved albums dripping off the shelf. I wept when I saw them. In this day of instant, cheap and free downloads and bargain CD’s, it is difficult to convey the determination it took for me to save enough money to purchase most of my Long Playing Records or LPs. If you are a Discophile, you will appreciate the time invested and the process involved in searching for a rare or title or favorite artist.
I was in high school when music became very important to me; when I wanted to own the music that was important, the music and the artists who were both shaping and reflecting the changing culture of the day. My family was firmly middle-class; we were not rich and not poor; we had everything we needed but not a great deal extra. Allowance was doled out and there were occasional opportunities to earn extra but those were few and far between. A larger purchase took planning, sacrifice and foregoing a lot of candy bars.
Much of the music I liked at that time was played on the radio. It was from the radio I learned that one of my favorite groups had a new LP scheduled for release in a few weeks. Once the talk began, it grew. Speculation about the content, design and format of the LP went on endlessly; my desire to own this record increased with the talk. My options for purchasing this record were extremely limited; there was a single record store in town. I knew that my record would sell-out before I could even figure out a way of getting to the store. There was only one possible solution – pre-order!
I had to save the money and save it quick. I had to go to the store and I had to pay cash, in advance to be guaranteed a copy of this record album.
The single record store in town was about a mile from my house; it was in a part of town I rarely visited. The store was a dark place of mystery, full of records produced by artists from a bygone era; sheet music arranged in rows and columns on the wall, dusty instruments hanging in the window and from the ceiling, glass cases containing music paraphernalia I couldn’t identify. In my old sneakers, pants and favorite, button-down cardigan, full of determination and false courage, along with my hard-earned $6.99, I walked out the front door and headed down the street. My hand kept a tight grip on my money, sweaty in my pocket. Walking through the “bad part of town” increased my anxiety and caused me to walk faster, gasping for air but undeterred, my eyes on the prize.
With my goal in sight, I took a deep breath and walked into the store. A fast and nearly, painless process; I handed my entire savings over to a grumpy clerk in a white shirt and black tie and he added my name and phone number to his list. Now the waiting for the actual album release became even more agonizing; now I had no money left and no album, I was counting the days.
The radio station began to “leak” songs from the album. I was desperate to listen but just as adamant about not hearing. I wanted to wait, to have my private concert, just me and my stereo, just me and MY album, from beginning to end.
Finally, release day, Friday, November 22, 1968. Of course, a school day; will the agony of waiting never end! The next day I again made the journey from home to the record store, my receipt, a tiny paper ticket to happiness, in my sweaty hand stuffed in my pocket for safe-keeping. This walk to the store was nothing compared to the last time; I swaggered now. I had a clear purpose. I had braved the dark and dusty store once before, now I was a customer with a receipt, my name was on the list; I had arrived! I waited with several others, all on the same quest, laughing to myself at the fools who did not plan, did not strategize the purchase and did not pre-order; disappointment for them, success for me! My LP, MY LP, now in a thin paper bag, I held it close to my body, tucked under my right arm and ran most of the way home; my feet flying inches above the pavement the whole way.
Safe in my third floor sanctuary I took the album out of the bag and paused to examine it; still protected in it’s shrink-wrap, pristine, perfect, waiting to be unveiled. This was a sacred moment.
The cover was stark, white. The name of the artists was embossed into the lower right front corner, The Beatles. The original, Beatles White Album, it had no title, and was simply and always referred to as The White Album. A two-record set, it came with a poster and an 8×10 glossy head shot of each of the four Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo. The poster was a collage of Beatle photos with all the song lyrics on the back.
Reverently, slowly, I removed one of the records encased in its paper sleeve; I was only in high school but I knew I had to savor this moment. Carefully, no fingerprints please, I slid the album from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable. I tenderly lowered the tone arm until the needle engaged and sat in my chair and closed my eyes. There is simply nothing as beautiful as new vinyl gleaming black, blacker than black and shiny, untouched by human hands. A single, etched line spiraling from the outer edge to the center; magically, mysteriously, the sound produced by this single continuous line changed my life. For the first time, I began to take music seriously. I began to think about the words, about the person who wrote the words and the person who sang the words. That day, I played the entire two-record set straight through, just over 90 minutes of music. I played it many, many times in the days, weeks and months that followed; I believe my family has finally forgiven me for this.
Over time, I got a job, purchased more albums by The Beatles and many other artists but none of them impacted me as much as The Beatles White Album.
I was able to climb the stairs to the third floor the day after the fire to see if anything was salvageable. Seeing the cover of The White Album, curling, scorched and grey was devastating. The records inside were warped, the single, continuous line of magical sound, melted away. The poster, which had hung on my wall since the day it was purchased was gone, burned; only the tacks that held it in place remained. There was no trace of the 8×10 color glossies.
My most prized possession now ashes and dust.