Keeping track

IT was, as far as I could tell, irretrievably lost. I had moved once, no twice, since I last saw it. Which means I had been through everything twice -- not counting specific searches -- without finding it. I asked my former roommate if she'd found it among her things. But she had moved three times since then. Some of her boxes had never shown up, some were still being stored since her marriage a year earlier. She just couldn't be sure.

Well, I was moving again. This time with the help of a moving company. And I watched the packers from atop my old black stool in the corner of the living room, still hoping to see it -- maybe in the boxes from the storage locker which were being repacked. But it wasn't there.

After a 1,600-mile trip and two weeks in a warehouse, my things were delivered one rainy day in spring. Buck and Dave moved the boxes onto my new carpet, which was protected by moving quilts.

On one of their trips they tried to leave a plastic refrigerator tray and an orange corduroy pillow. That worried me. I chatted my way through the rain, up the off-limits gangplank and into the off-limits van, hoping to make sure all my things were unloaded.

The truck was empty, except for a pile of moving quilts. I gave the quilts an affectionate kick, thinking of their valiant fellows keeping my carpets pristine. The pile slipped easily, as if only a drape. And there beneath were the forlorn refrigerator tray and the stray pillow ... and a familiar shade of buff.

There it was. A large buff 1973 hanging calendar, made by a prestigious Italian manufacturing firm. With its fine reproductions of paintings by the French painter 'Edouard Vuillard, it was one of the few things I clasped to myself during 10 vagabond years. Like the proverbial hat, wherever I hung it was home. And in its pages I had tucked bits of hope and faith:

A photo of Coco Chanel at 26. Paramount film studio's notes on Fred Astaire's first screen test. (``Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little.'') An Adrienne Rich poem from a roommate. Thoreau on ``affecting the quality of the day'' (``That is the highest of arts''). Virginia Woolf. Katherine Anne Porter (``If I had not set my sights on being great, I would not even have been good''). An article on procrastination. A note from my tutor (``Principiis obsta, finem respice''). An acceptance letter to Columbia's graduate school (which I didn't accept). A ``Please call us'' letter from a much-sought-after law firm (which I did). Justice Benjamin Cardozo on standards of behavior (``Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive''). A ``Question authority'' bumper sticker.

In the middle of an empty street in a strange city, the eccentric route of my past caught up with me. Post cards and Peanuts -- it was all there.

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