Many years ago, when my children were in their teens, I was inspired to write four children’s books over a period of three years. They were short works, meant to be illustrated, and I was delighted when I completed the writing of each one.

The first was about losing my daughter, Suzanne, in Alexander’s Department Store, in Rego Park, Queens, New York, when she was four years old. This was a terrifying experience that I was sure other mothers and fathers could identify with and, thank God, it had a happy ending (we found her, unharmed). I was in my late 20s when I wrote the story, probably as a catharsis and to feel less guilty that I could actually have been careless enough to lose my small daughter in that vast department store.

It brought back memories of my mother’s – and entire family’s – frightening experience of losing my young brother years ago (he was about six years old) in a county park on Long Island during a day-long outing. That time, we had police, park rangers (“parkies” as we called them then), family and strangers all on the hunt. Bobby had wandered off and dozed in the woods, oblivious to the hunt and to our panic. When I wrote about Suzanne, I know that memory deepened my own feelings and my ability to get it down on paper.

I sent the book off to children’s book publishers and received a few “sorry, but try us again” replies, which motivated me to write the next books. These were all inspired by my children and their friends and, even though they were never published, I felt proud that I captured these moments to share with readers.

Unfortunately, I no longer recall the plots of the three subsequent books that I wrote. Sometime in the years that followed, I threw all four manuscripts out. Gone, my four children’s stories – all relegated to the trash.

Why? I still don’t know why. Maybe I was moving and trying to “downsize” the amount of paper in the drawers. I might have been having a “neat” day or week. This seems to be common reason writers and artists throw out stuff. It’s possible I looked at the file folders and said, “Who cares? I’ll never publish them.” I had not yet started teaching creative writing and couldn’t observe my own dictum for the next 20 years in classrooms: “Never throw anything out!” I have journals and diaries, photographs, address books, calendars – some going back to the late 1950s. Not a hoarder (any more than other writers), I nonetheless have held onto several drafts of the novels I’ve written. I’m sure my kids will show up in my office with large plastic bags, if not a torch, right I’ve gone on to my heavenly rest.

In writing Only You, the memoir about to be released by Oak Tree Press, so much old, filed material going back to the late 1950s came in handy. I’m completing another memoir, Dancing Hussy, set in the mid-1970s, about my new life as a single mom in the Hamptons and my adventures as a belly dancer/instructor. Written in bits and pieces, over many years, I still need to see that photo, remember that student’s name, and learn more details about master classes I took in New York City. There are plenty of books on the shelves, lots of vinyl in the record cabinet, pictures of the younger, slim and beautiful Eileen in costume, a 3 x 5 card index file of every student I taught over five years’ time. Just seeing a name on a card, looking at a book jacket or playing a record prompts memories.

Suzanne and Jeffrey are much older now – in their 40s. Whether or not I created works of art, those early children’s books were about them. The stories I wrote down displayed so much love and affection, all inspired by being a mother; their mother. I wish so much I could share the work with them.

The work is lost, however, and this is a major regret of my writing life. Perhaps some of you can identify, although I hope not.

23 Responses to Lost

  1. pat shevlin says:

    I actually looked at your blog an hour ago because I have not heard from you! Words are so very important; like photographs, they record and validate. My best friend and I used to exchange lengthy year-end reviews that we would provide as part of our Christmas gift to each other. We spent almost every day together; yet we initiated this look back. And guess what? I never saved them. She passed away twenty years ago and every Christmas I regret that in my youth I did not value the words. I have a feeling that your children consider you a gift in their lives with or without the stories.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Thanks for your comments, Pat. I sent this blog to my children right after posting it; I still haven’t heard what they think. I’m so sorry you didn’t save those reviews. But guess what? You can still remember, somewhat, the thoughts you shared. And you can write about this. As William Zinsser calls it, it’s “inventing the truth.”

  2. Good post, Eileen. I still have stories I wrote in the third grade. But I must admit, I deleted a copy of one of my books from my computer. I had copies of the book, but I needed it in document format to email to my publisher.. Good thing my trusty webmistress had saved it and sent it to me. I’m sorry you lost those stories.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I have novels and stories that I wrote pre-computer, Marilyn. I’m not motivated to type up all that work now, but the hard copies remain. Recently, I revisited two of the novels. Not bad, maybe, but I want to go forward with my writing, not stay in the past. So they’ll remain in the file drawers. Just in case I want to lift something, somewhere from those pages . . .

  3. Ben Antinori says:

    We can all relate, Eileen. Who doesn’t have regrets about some lost work or discarded memorabilia? Your post came at a fortuitous time. I’ve been scrounging through old boxes in my storeroom searching for a copy of my uncle’s WWII diary of his 33 bombing missions over Europe. It’s there, and I will find it. In the looking, I’ve resurrected long-forgotten bits and pieces of my past—notes, cards, pictures, sheet music, playbills, tickets stubs, receipts from special events and even composition bluebooks. I knew someday I would be pleased that I’m a sentimental slob and kept them. That day has arrived.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m glad you shared this, Ben. Some of that “stuff” you’re finding will surely wind up in your essays and memoirs. Thank God for sentimental slobs like you — and me — who hold onto these boxes of memories.

  4. Dac says:

    The world is better off without my youthful attempts at writing – prose, poetry and music. I’ve gotten paranoid about keeping my later efforts – afraid the computer will crash and I’ll lose some of those deathless death scenes- . I use “drop-box;” do you?

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Dac, I worry sometimes about the computer crashing, too. So I keep hard copies of all my work. The half-thought out ideas, beginnings of stories and essays — not so much. I have drop box and use it for photo transferring but am not savvy enough to know how else to use it. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Maria Ruiz says:

    Because I’ve moved so many times over the years, I’ve lost many things. Now with the computer it’s a bit easier to save. On the good side, I seem to have lost a lot of anger and hurt and now can save more happy memories. Good blog, it makes one think about their own ‘things’.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      As for computer storage, Maria, see Dac’s remark above and my response. As for things, I’d rather lose jewelry (“Finding the Gold”) and other material stuff than my precious journals and writings. That’s why I’m not rich. Glad to hear from you.

  6. Arlene SanMiguel says:

    I am downsizing my paper in my home, as we speak. This is good advice. I am grouping all important papers and photographs etc. together. I lost an “adorable”
    paper that I wrote in 5th grade and I am still hopeful that it will turn up.

    Can definitely relate to losing your child in a public place (if only for a minute), the sheer terror feeling, oh my!
    Good blog Eileen

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m glad you received the blog while you’re going through all the paper, Arlene. And I hope you’ll let me know if you find that 5th grade paper. I look forward to seeing you on Thursday where, perhaps, we can discuss this topic.

  7. In my genealogy work I often hear people commenting on how they wish their ancestors would have preserved some of the material that got trashed over the years.

    I also can relate to your terror on losing a child in a public place. When my son was just a tyke he wandered away from us while we were busy looking at brochures at Williamsburg, Va. Near hysteria when a kind couple returned him to the fold. Still gives me shivers thinking about it.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I appreciate your comments, John. In your work it’s especially important for you, and your clients/colleagues, to be able to retrieve old documents and material — and so disturbing when they can’t. And yes, unless we’re heartless human beings, how can we ever forget the trauma of losing a child like that?

  8. I got rid of at least 6 full-length manuscripts that I wrote–thinking they weren’t good enough to even consider. Yes, I do wish I still had them. No, they aren’t on my computer. First three were type-written, the other three written in an old word processing program.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Oh, Marilyn, I feel so bad that you discarded those manuscripts — as you certainly do, too. My older manuscripts were written before I had a computer, but the typed versions are still here. Maybe I should have my kids put them in the coffin with me, rather than toss them once I’m safely in the ground?

  9. This blog made me remember the letter I lost — a marriage proposal from my high school sweetheart who I’ve been married to for 40 years…how I wish I could read those words now.

    Your words sparked a lot of emotion in the readers, including me.

    Thank You, Eileen.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Ah yes, your marriage proposal, Janet. That’s a real loss, especially since Bruce and you have stayed married all these years. After my early marriage to Billy ended, I discarded some stuff — out of anger, of course — like my mother’s handwritten book of recipes “Billy will like”. And my wedding album — ripped to shreds after we separated. I managed to write Only You without these things but, sigh, I wish I had held onto those things.

  10. Jerry Giammatteo says:

    Hi Eileen. I have kept every greeting card from my two boys since they were small such as Father’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and the like. Occasionally, I go through my overstuffed draw and think that perhaps it is time to toss it all. After reading your blog, perhaps not. It still brings a smile to my face.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I, too, have kept all the greeting cards from my two children, Jerry. I have file folders and a huge album filled with them. At Christmas, I display some of their cards of previous years in my house. I know they were carefully chosen, and many are hand-crafted. No way I would part with them, and I hope you don’t, either.

  11. JoAnn Phoenix says:

    Eileen, I wish I realized 44 years ago how important the letters from my ex boyfriend in Vietnam would be. I would love to reread them and remember that time in my life. I think I dumped them so my fiance wouldn’t see them!! Your story brought that all back and more. Thanks for sharing. JoAnn

  12. JoAnn Phoenix says:

    Eileen, I am once again remembering how I dumped a years worth of letters from my ex boyfriend while he was in Vietnam. I remember clearly sitting in my room with my fiance and throwing them away because I didn’t want him to see them. I sure wish I had saved them. I could use the essence of them for my story, but more importantly, to remember who we were way back then. Thanks for sharing your piece, I really enjoyed it and will remember to file things….even stuff I don’t want to be seen by others. JoAnn

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Great to hear from you, JoAnn. The things we do to go forward — as you were doing with your fiancé — wind up as regrets sometimes. We’re only human, and we’re “caring” humans, too. We care about protecting ourselves and protecting others — and damn those precious files!

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