My bride and I were recently looking at a video of our former home and its belongings. A friend of mine suggested, years ago, that we have a professional take a detailed video in the unlikely chance our home burned and, of course, it did. We kept the video in a safe deposit box and made a copy for our insurance adjuster as soon as we returned to Malibu after the fire.
Looking at what we lost was bittersweet. It reminded me of watching old videos of relatives long gone. Seeing them alive once again would always bring a smile to my face but also pain, feeling their loss.
And so looking at the home we so enjoyed, recalling all the family gatherings there, all the memories we had in just seven years, I smiled while at the same time painfully aware that, although we can rebuild our home, it will never contain those same memories.
When you lose almost everything but the clothes you are wearing, it is strange trying to figure out what you miss the most. I am not a particularly materialistic fellow, but watching the video, I was especially conscious of some of the artwork, much of which came from my folks.
There was one piece that I bought myself when I was in my 30s while traveling in Australia. It was a life size wooden statue of an unclothed male made in New Guinea, and it brought me much joy. He had bulging eyes, but that was not the feature one noticed immediately. He was especially well endowed, and I hung it on a wall facing the entrance to our home.
Whenever anybody entered, it was hard not to notice the statue and his good fortune. People would ask me about the statue, and I would invariably tell them that it was a portrait of me from the waist down.
For reasons I still do not understand to this very day, I called the statue “Herman.” I doubt that anybody in New Guinea is named Herman, but he looked like a Herman to me. When my great nephew Gavin was only around two or three, he was quite frightened when he first encountered Herman. I sat him down and explained that Herman was a dear friend of mine, and he would never hurt anybody. After that explanation, Gavin became Herman’s friend also, and I am sure that Gavin will miss Herman just as I do.
Important postscript: A few days ago, after I had written this column, a package arrived containing a miniature Herman lookalike made out of clay, by Gavin’s mother Mary and brother Richard. Accompanying this great surprise was the following note from Gavin’s father Brian:
“Dear Joan and Burt, Before Herman’s untimely passing, he wanted to ensure his legacy by donating to a sperm bank. As you know, he was the essence of reproductive masculinity! With the help of surrogates Mary and Richard, he has spawned an offspring–Herman II. We hope he can keep you protected and nostalgic about the irreplaceable original!”