Our house, like most I imagine, has themes that run through the events taking place there.
One of my wife’s themes is lost, or missing, expressed in phrases commonly heard here such as “I’m sure I had a copy of that book…” or “I can’t believe I would have got rid of that book..”
It’s not always a book, occasionally it’s something else, perhaps a CD or LP, or an ornament. But it is usually a book.
The reason for this theme is our history. My wife, Kathie Touin, is a Californian who was living in Washington state in north-west USA when we met. I am English and, at the time, was living in London.
We married after what I suppose you would call a whirlwind romance. Incidentally, is this the only possible positive use of the word whirlwind, other than when Dorothy’s house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East?
Anyway, when we married 10 years ago – I mean Kathie and me, not the Wicked Witch of the East, I never married her – we set up home in my then flat in Ealing, London.
In the weeks leading up to the big move Kathie spent most of her time sorting out her possessions, giving much away to friends and charity, before packing what was left in boxes which were freighted from Washington to Ealing.
Incidentally, it would have been fun to travel with the boxes – we assume they went down the US west coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic, before finally arriving in Essex for the less interesting part of their journey.
When Kathie’s possessions eventually got to our flat some were unpacked and many went into our storage unit. Some boxes were never unpacked or sorted until we moved to Orkney three years ago.
And so, with the long passage of time between packing and unpacking, Kathie still puzzles over books she thinks she once had or can’t believe she gave away.
It is one of the amusing themes of our home-life – but now it has happened to me.
My late mother had a lovely copy of the book, not much more than a short story really, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I think it is properly described as a novella. I’m pretty sure my mother’s copy was an illustrated edition and, some years before she died, she gave the book to me.
Since moving to Orkney and semi-retirement I’ve determined to catch-up on my reading and also with the many CDs I have bought over the years but never played.
As I mentioned on Twitter, I opened my Patsy Cline four-CD box-set to listen to for the first time the other day, only to discover a receipt which says I bought it 20 years ago this month. As my Twitter friend @myraponeill pointed out, quoting Patsy: “Crazy…”
Anyway I decided it was well past time to read The Snow Goose. I’ve never seen the film – starring Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter – but not so long ago there was a BBC Radio 4 adaptation which reduced me to tears. I have a cassette tape of it – err, somewhere.
The Snow Goose is the story of a lone artist, a young girl and an injured snow goose; a story of war; a story of love, loss and friendship; and a story of the power of nature.
However, I have failed to find the book. This despite the fact that we recently bought extra bookcases and all our books are finally, we think, out on display.
I was rather upset that I could lose a book which my mother had given me and which, I know, was special to her. Because it is a tale of love and loss, and my mother is no longer alive, its loss seemed all the more poignant.
Please don’t think I am careless. I have other books and possessions which my mother gave me. One of the most precious is her 1948 copy of the Oxford Book Of English Verse, which she has signed “Mary E Smith”.
And so I have bought another copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, over the internet, it was not illustrated, and not expensive, and I am about to read it for the first time.
I am hoping that buying a second copy will make my mother’s copy somehow turn up, in a box, tucked into another book, somewhere… But that is perhaps hoping for too much.