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Vous Avez du Feu?

I’m going to have to start smoking. That will be the only way I’ll ever use all these matches. In my ongoing effort to wrangle and organize years’ worth of accumulated stuff, I found a shoebox filled with matchbooks I’d collected decades ago, and stored away.

I don’t use scented candles or incense, and David and I decommissioned our fireplace a year ago after we decided that as much as we loved it, it was an environmental disaster. Funny, I’d forgotten about these matches, and during the winters when we used the fireplace, we were always hunting for matches because we never kept them around.

Unlike other exercises in groveling through boxes of letters, cards, and mementos that make me weepy, it was entertaining to look at these relics from another age. In my local bank, a sign sternly warns customers not to conduct cellphone conversations while transacting business, which is why the matches from First National Bank in Bloomington made me laugh. You can’t have a cellphone in the bank now, so it seems hard to remember a day when you could light up while waiting to deposit your paycheck, another ancient and long-gone ritual.

The Burger King matches amused me, too. Now fast-food joints just kill you with pink slime. Back in the good old days, they’d help you finish the job by encouraging you to smoke, too!

The velveteen “Patrice and Harold” wedding souvenir is a quaint keepsake from a New Jersey nuptials I attended 35 years ago with an old friend—Harold was his cousin. I remember little about the occasion other than scrambling to buy a dress to wear to it. I rarely wore a dress in those days, but I found an inexpensive blue and green rayon number at S. Klein, manufactured by “Miz Shugah.”  My friend tells me that to this day, Patrice and Harold are still happily married.

The “Andy and Lynn” wedding matchbox from 1992 has a less fortunate story. A young couple who lived in the apartment two doors down from mine at the time in Seal Beach, they vanished not long after the wedding, leaving behind rumors of bad checks, sobriety lapses, and other troubles. I liked them both, even though they had a slightly reckless, dangerous air.

I lent Lynn my heirloom diamond earrings to wear on her wedding day. The ceremony was on the beach next to the Seal Beach pier, and both she and Andy wore Uggs. I worried briefly that Lynn might disappear with the baubles, but to her credit, she brought them back and thanked me after their short honeymoon, a driving trip up the coast in a red Mercedes borrowed from our mutual landlord. Twenty years later, I suspect that this matchbook might be all that’s left of that marriage.

With a few staid exceptions, most of the places where I collected the matchbooks have long since gone out of business, like the Miramar By The Sea in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. The Miramar was a collection of seaside cottages built circa 1910, known for the blue roofs you could spot from a distance. All the swells stayed there at one time or another—Hollywood stars, U.S. presidents, and business tycoons. The site is a fenced-off ruin now, most of the cottages razed, a billionaire developer’s plan to build a five-star luxury hotel on the historic site having stalled out years ago.

My first wedding reception took place in one of the blue-roofed Miramar beach cottages in 1985. It was an easy, relaxed occasion, like a party in someone’s house, with a fire in the fireplace, the ocean murmuring outside, and a small group of closest family and friends laughing, drinking Champagne, and eating hors d’oeuvres and wedding cake inside on that October evening.  No “Treacy and Mark” matches commemorate the start of a marriage which, despite its brevity and its devastating end, was filled with sweetness.

Before I came to California, I spent three years in Paris scratching out a living any way I could—cleaning houses, taking care of kids, giving English lessons. About midway during my time there, a high school friend came to visit. He was touring Europe with his backpack, as a lot of us did in those days. His French was very limited, but he knew how to ask, “Vous avez du feu?” (Do you have a light?).

Like many Americans, he struggled with the proper French accent and pronounced “feu” as “foo” instead of  “fehh.”  Any time he was at a loss for words he’d pipe up, “Vooz avay doo foo?, apropos of nothing, and we’d laugh.

Finding all the “foo” in this box brought back memories of swanning around in places like the Plaza, Chez Cary, or Paris for that matter, with very little money and only a cheap dress. These pocketed matches seem a bit like lucky charms now, talismans of a time when you could have fun just about anywhere, even a place where you didn’t belong.

About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

2 responses »

  1. Oh my goodness what a great story!! I love your matches. I see them as a framed collage hanging on your office wall! What a fantastic entry, Treacy, I loved every word! It made me laugh to think about all the places where people could smoke, and I smoked in them all. 🙂 So glad that was then and this is now!

  2. Ha, ha, Christine, so that was YOU puffing at the bank! Thanks, as always, for reading. xxoo


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