Service of Favorite Things Possibly Gone in Moments

August 6th, 2018

Categories: Favorite Things, Fire, Memories

Niece Alison & mug from John

If we’re lucky, we own and can treasure some favorite things.

Millions don’t have this luxury starting with Californians now homeless due to the Carr conflagration, just one of many. Then there are those who also have lost everything in other fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods and some half a million in the U.S. living on the street or in their cars because they can’t afford an alternative. Favorite things are the last thing on their minds.

Glenn Close told The Wall Street Journal Magazine’s Thomas Gebremedhin that her mother’s gloves were among her favorite things. I understood that: I have a worn pair of my father’s leather ones on a shelf in my living room which I mentioned and photographed in “Service of Remembering.” About her mother’s Close said “I find them hugely comforting. Sometimes, when I need it, I put them against my face.” I lay my hand on top of my dad’s gloves for reassurance.

My bet is that most favorite things are small and of little intrinsic value. I know of only one photo taken of my parents on their wedding day. It’s on my wall [photo left].

In addition to books, the physical things I hold dear are mostly small: two coffee mugs nephew John gave me and countless photos—some framed—nephew Edward has shared [see the photo above for one of the mugs and one of the photos]. A copper cocktail jigger from sister Elizabeth and wooden recipe box she gave me decades ago make me feel at home. Daily I wear a ring and bracelets from dear ones along with my wedding band.

A ceramic and a china bowl—one a friend made, the other, a wedding gift—join lovingly-used Vietri dinner and pasta plates [right] we hand-carried from Italy and decorative kitchen towels that I keep until they are in shreds. I love my posters; a cartoon of my father; a vintage silver Tiffany cocktail shaker; key rings; a photo of my parents on a motorcycle in France that Edward framed for us; an oil painting of my mother as a child and my parents’ everyday silverware.

And I’ve just started.

What are some of your favorite things? Do you think “there but for the grace of God go I,” when you hear about devastating natural disasters that turn lives upside down?

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15 Responses to “Service of Favorite Things Possibly Gone in Moments”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    The older I get the more I cherish my family and friends as well as my possessions. Of course the best thing is, just being alive! Consciousness is a miracle… It’s really too bad that when one gets to this stage in life it’s hard to remember things! 🙂

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I find that memories I hadn’t thought of in eons pop into my head on occasion as do questions I wish I’d asked those no longer with us. As for remembering things, have you ever tried what someone suggested to me when I was a child? “If the answer to a test question doesn’t come to you right away, put your head down on your desk.” Who knows if it’s just another old wives’ tale.

    Humans are flexible and adaptable and amazingly strong. What it would be like not to have at least a few favorite possessions and photos as visual aids would be extremely tough but immigrants escaping warzones and danger losing everything along the way can also teach us about how to adjust.

  3. Judith B Schuster Said:

    I feel incredibly sad for the people who have lost everything in the Califonia fires. I can only imagine what the heartache from losing everything is, especially the treasures from parents who are now deceased.

    If I were to have moments to save favorite things, I’d save the photos we have on a wall in our bedroom They include the first formal pictures I had taken of my children when they were about six months old, my parents and grandparents wedding pictures and our wedding pictures and a formal family picture taken when I was about sixteen. Also, there are pictures of my parents when they were around 40. If I had a few more minutes, I’d take the pictures of my grandchildren when they were young and some jewelry I inherited from my mother and grandmother, not because it is valuable, although it is, but because they wore it and I treasure it. I think of them everytime I wear it.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As I read your comment, I thought that perhaps Bill Junior could take photos of these precious photos as backup.

    If you lived in a danger zone, or if there were some quirky weather condition that threatened your home, would you remove the photos from the bedroom wall and put them in bags by the front door ready to leave with you should you need to evacuate? Your jewelry could fit with your ID, essentials and credit cards in your handbag. One of my earliest memories is daydreaming in the bathtub as to what I’d grab should someone declare “fire” in our apartment. I cannot tell you where that came from as I was four or five–a psychiatrist might be alarmed!

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I also have a number of “favorite things” mementos of my family and friends, kept with or without practical reasons, for sentimental reasons more than anything else.

    They include a once-splendid hand crocheted Afghan, like the one Katherine Cornell wrapped herself in a play about Elizabeth Barrett Browning; pictures of my mother as a child; my father in the army in Cleveland; his beautiful books; my parent’s porcelain; my grandmother’s cake dishes and very old photos of my grandfather and his family.

    It seems comforting to know these things are in my environment. Now more than ever, as we live in a state of hyperbolic anxiety with regard to a multitude of disasters, ongoing and immanent I constantly question destiny, fate and fortune. Not a day goes by when I do not think “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    I have to add that nevertheless I am not a particularly religious or observant individual. And at those moments I also feel that material possessions seem extraneous.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    When once my life had appeared to fall apart I was totally disinterested in things. I was young enough that most of the things I owned was stuff I’d collected and the people I loved would be with me for the duration, or at least I didn’t think of the inevitable. Today, I would feel worse about losing connections to the past that you describe and that I treasure from my family and from friends no longer here.

    I too favor sentimental pieces and not those of value, though these days I’ve discovered that what I value and what someone may have paid dearly for, has lost all value–but that’s another subject.

    Hurricane Sandy did something to my sense of security in Manhattan–it caused the rivers to breach walls and inundate hospitals and subways and electric facilities. The city was as vulnerable as a house on a steep hill in a mudslide. Global warming–that is also impacting Europe causing fires and drought–will continue to impact all of us. It was 111 in Lisbon yesterday, causing asphalt roads to buckle.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debbie wrote on Facebook: Photos and special gifts that are used on a regular basis.

    A gal I know lost many of her possessions in a fire (caused by lightning) while she was overseas on holiday.

    Although she had insurance, the trauma was devastating. Truly, it is unimaginable.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right. Insurance will help replace a wall and a floor, paint and draperies and that’s all good but your precious souvenirs of dear ones: No.

    I am sorry for your friend.

    The other day I burned something in the microwave in the office kitchen and at least four people dashed to see what the smoke was about. That attention to smoke is a good thing…[I apologized for scaring folks and for creating a nasty odor.]

  9. Larry Kay Said:

    Larry wrote on Facebook, referring to the photo of my parents on their wedding day: For me, that pic is also a precious memory which I have on one of my living room bookshelves. Bob must’ve made a copy. I often wonder how I’d feel if I lost this plus an engagement pic of my maternal grandparents

  10. Edward Baecher Said:

    Edward wrote on Facebook, also referring to my parents in the photograph: Can we consider World War II as a natural disaster of the humanities? Grandma Ruth above ran the gauntlet for my grandfather Bernard. Grandma had so many wonderful stories in such a horrible time.

  11. Phyllis Stier Said:

    Phyllis, referring to the same photo as Larry and Edward, wrote on Facebook: that photo..would you share where/when it was taken

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Phyllis: Paris for sure in the 1930s but I don’t know the location of their reception. There was a story about Dad’s haircut. He got what he was told was an “American haircut” and mom had a fit when she saw it.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    At the end of a cover story in last Friday’s “Mansion” section of The Wall Street Journal, written about Mario Andretti, who started his life in Italy, Marc Myers wrote: “when we left, I took only my rosary made of brown beads. I still have it, along with our ship tickets. The beads are faded orange now.” Today Andretti lives “in Nazareth [Pa] in a house that looks like a beautiful Mediterranean villa.” In addition to the nine cars he currently owns, the rosary and tickets to the US were the only belongings Andretti referred to.

  14. Protius Said:

    We were living in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia) when the Second World War broke out. My parents had all their favorite things with them in the modest home they had rented in one of the city’s residential neighborhoods, everything from snap shots to paintings, autographed books to sports trophies, a stamp collection, lots of books, phonograph records, my Mother’s silver service, family furniture, everything.

    While Washington ordered my mother and I to be evacuated in 1940, my father stayed on in Belgrade and continued to live in the house. Then, he had the good luck to be travelling in Switzerland in 1941 when the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and avoided being interned, but, of course, fully expecting to return, he hadn’t closed down the house. My parents assumed that they would never see their things again, but given what others had lost, they considered themselves lucky.

    In the fall of 1945, my father was assigned to Allied Forces Headquarters, Mediterranean Theater, in Caserta, Italy as political advisor to the military, who, the war being over, were in the throes of demobilizing while still exercising some degree of muscle in chaotic post war Europe. We moved into a requisitioned villa in nearby Naples.

    Serendipitously, he discovered that the army was flying a cargo plane regularly from Caserta to Belgrade to supply our newly opened embassy to Tito’s Communist government with everything it needed from food to furniture. My father asked if he might hitch a ride with him the next time he was due to go. He agreed, and a few days later my parents were off to Belgrade to find out what had happened to their possessions.

    Amazingly, they were in pristine condition with nothing missing. The house had been requisitioned by the Germans for use during the war as officers’ quarters, and whoever was in charge was “old school” and respectful of property.

    Since the supply plane flew back to Caserta empty, my father worked out a deal with the pilot to bring back my parents’ things when he came home. Three or four flights did the trick.

    I think of this story each time I look at the deep blue and yellow map on the Vietri pottery globe lamp on the table across from my computer. It spent the war in Belgrade.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You don’t say that the Vietri pottery globe is a favorite thing of yours but I suspect it is. You might consider cutting, pasting and printing your comment to tape it to the bottom of the lamp.

    Imagine the elation your parents felt to discover their belongings existed and that they could retrieve them. In the day Air Force families were warned not to bring with them their best furnishings, tableware and decorative pieces so some of my wedding gifts stayed at my parent’s apartment. I owned no furniture. The Air Force was known to be over careful at times but you never knew. Air Force acquaintances stationed in Libya left all their belongings behind when one night they were escorted out of the country at gunpoint.

    That was an extreme example. But moving around so much as we did things could get lost or broken. Friends I’m still in touch with bought the most delicate wine glasses imaginable when stationed in Thailand. They figured they wouldn’t last so they purchased only a few. When I sipped from them they’d traveled back to the States and over to Turkey with not a chip. I wonder if they still exist.

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