If you were a fan of the old Perry Mason show, you might remember that the episodes usually had titles like this, with a clever (or not so clever) alliteration that let you know what was about to happen. This story doesn’t have anything to do with Perry Mason, and it’s not really a “case” at all. But this title popped into my head, and I’m sticking with it.
What, or who, is the Reclaimed Redhead? The answer takes me back to when I was a newlywed. I have to start there, in the first place we lived as a married couple, a small one-bedroom apartment in Albany, California. Excited to be in our first little home, but definitely on a budget, we went to some effort to make it feel warm and welcoming to friends and family and our two (soon to be three) cats. We painted the one large living room/study/dining area a pale gold, and I took a small brush to the trim with a deeper shade of butterscotch. We furnished the place with our combined hand-me-down and bargain furniture, turning our cozy place into a home we loved. We had brick-and-board bookcases, rescued kitchen chairs, and the formerly unfinished desk, rocking chair, and dresser I had painted, stained, or varnished. We hung a collection of prints and posters on the walls.
I think I first saw the redhead in the window at Dow and Frosini, the old framing shop that used to be on Oxford Street, just below the UC Berkeley campus. This shop, and its charming Italian proprietor, were favorites of ours. There was something about this print, though. If I recall correctly, I wanted to buy it and get it framed for my birthday. The redhead: She is nude, in repose, completely engrossed in the book she’s reading. She leans on one elbow, her hand at her cheek. Her other arm is bent, and is parallel to the pages of the book. Her pale body glows against the russet background, which becomes redder until it seems to match her hair. The artist has caught her in a moment of relaxed, but deep, contemplation. She neither notices nor cares if anyone is watching her. She is a reader.
The frame we chose picked up the reddish brown of the print’s background, but was also tinged with gold and a deeper red. We hung it up over the small green love seat we had purchased at Sears after our wedding. This is the only photograph I have in which you can see the print. I am posing with two of our three cats on the occasion of my twenty-fifth birthday. The black one, Capt. Midnite, is on my lap; Kinky Raoul’s gray ears and the top of his head are just visible at the bottom of the picture.
My husband and the cats and I moved several times after we outgrew our apartment: first to San Jose, and then to three houses in Oakland. We moved with one–then two–of our kids (the third hadn’t been born yet).
If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you will be familiar with what happened in 1991: a disastrous fire that destroyed our neighborhood. You would also know that I wrote a memoir about the fire that was published last year. As part of the memoir, I wrote about several of the “artifacts” I had loved and lost in that fire. Naturally, I had to choose among the massive number of “things” we lost. Many ideas came from looking through my photo albums, which we managed to toss into the car before we evacuated on that October day. But I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to my reclining redheaded reader.
Until this past Saturday.
A friend and I were browsing in one of the local independent bookstores in my neighborhood. I had placed three copies of my book there, on consignment, and thought while I was there I would check to see if any had sold. I was hopeful, but resigned that I would still see three books on the shelf. I saw only one copy, which was a pleasant surprise. I spoke to the guy behind the counter, and he went on the computer to confirm the sales. He asked if I’d like “a payout.” “Sure,” I said. And while I waited, I looked over at the display of cards arrayed on one of those tall, rotating racks. Down at the very bottom, I saw this:
I gasped, then reached down to take it off the rack. It was her!
I started babbling to the man and woman behind the counter–you know I wrote this book about the fire and the stuff I’d lost, and this picture was in my house and I loved it and had almost forgotten about it and now here she is again and how much is this card because I have to have it?
The woman, also a ginger, by the way, said, “Just take it. It’s worth it for the story.” So I took the card home with me. I cannot even put into words what it means to have found this long-lost treasure and all the memories it brings to mind.
Just the other day, I was listening to a program on NPR and the subject was coincidence. At one point, someone said, “If there is no coincidence, there is no story.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that the case of the Recovered Redhead has a happy ending.