Treasures With A Thousand Faces


(Written in response to a invitation to write about one’s treasures)

What would you grab if you had ten minutes before a coming disaster?

In earthquake-prone, wildfire-wary California, this is a sometimes parlor game. More than once, I’ve used it as an icebreaker or had it come up in conversations with friends and strangers alike.

I think: My passport? My laptop? My cellphone? But invariably, I go back to the now-famous Guest Book Collection. I would grab the guest books.

When I married my Final Husband, sometimes referred to as the Last Best Husband, a few decades back, I moved from a lifetime on the east coast into the San Francisco Victorian he had bought twenty years earlier. He had had no siblings or close relatives, and though he’d been married before had never had children. But he had friends around the globe. I had more relatives — children, grandchildren, sisters, cousins — than could be easily counted, plus friends scattered everywhere myself.

We needed space. So the first major project we undertook was to convert the ground-level area behind the garage into a guest room with a small kitchen and bath. It was seldom empty for the next quarter-century.

A favorite niece started this tradition: as a wedding gift, she personalized a small notebook, transforming it into a guest book. It began life in the upstairs extra room of the Victorian, moving happily into the downstairs mini-suite within a year.

Guests were invariably greeted with a hug and an admonition: “If you leave without signing the Guest Book on the coffee table, you may never be invited back.” To a person, our guests obeyed.

They also quickly got creative. The book became the repository of reflections, photos, poems, cocktail napkins, ticket stubs, playbills, and more. As soon as Guest Book #1 was filled, it was succeeded by #2 — and by the time we downsized, the stack had grown to include Guest Book #6.

The little books came to tell the story of a happy marriage: illustrations by grandchildren, notes from favorite friends — they also grew to include pages for parties or special events, when I would invite everyone to sign with a name or a comment. My son and daughter-in-law came for my MFA graduation. A Parisian friend pasted in a photo from a trip we’d shared . . .

They’re just books, most costing less than $10. But they hold images and remembrances of literally hundreds of people I love.

And having those people in my heart? Priceless.