Cheap souvenirs, priceless memoriesBy LAVERNE HAMMOND
© St. Petersburg Times,
The notice in my church bulletin read: "Save your "good stuff' for the Summer Festival rummage sale."
What a great chance to clean out my house, I thought. But I knew I couldn't do it alone. I called on my daughters, who live 40 miles north of me.
After a few sessions, we had made great progress: Six large boxes were filled. When I told my daughters that I would check over the boxes one last time before sending them over to the sale, I saw them exchange worried glances.
I chuckled to myself. Perhaps they envisioned some of the "stuff" back in its usual place the following week!
The next day as I was looking through the boxes, I nodded in approval at our choices: dishes, books, picture frames, housewares and book bags. I smiled when I saw the funny-looking old man in a little wicker chair reading the Wall Street Journal with his hat cocked and labeled "Retired." I paused when I fingered a cup from a long-discarded dish set, but I moved on.
However, when my eyes fell upon a pair of ashtrays marked "SMB Monte Carlo" I picked them up and carried them to a lounge chair next to an open window. The soft air reminded me of the warm breezes on the Mediterranean at Monte Carlo, where I first laid eyes on those souvenirs.
It was the spring of 1970. My husband and I were in Europe, thanks to a 25th wedding anniversary gift from our children. We went to visit Daughter No. 3, who was spending her junior year in Paris. It was chilly and damp in the French capital, so we decided to take a night train down to Nice and soak up some sun for a few days. Our daughter and her friend Carol went with us.
After a day in Nice, we decided to take a side trip by bus to visit Monte Carlo, only nine miles down the coast. My husband and I wanted to check out the casino there, and the girls, barred from the casino because they were under 21, wanted to check out the town. Once in Monte Carlo, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet in three hours.
We arrived at the casino, but after we climbed a steep set of marble steps a friendly guide explained that the gaming rooms were not yet open. He offered to take us on a tour. He pointed out many interesting features of the old building and told us the history of the casino and of Monaco. He looked grim when he spoke of the German occupation during World War II, but his face softened when he spoke of Grace Kelly, the American actor who married the tiny kingdom's Prince Rainier.
At the end of the tour, the guard turned to me and said that there was a big party going on at the Hotel de Paris next door. Perhaps I would like to observe? Princess Grace was scheduled to appear, he added with enthusiasm. My husband urged me to go, saying that he would stay at the casino until it opened. I agreed to return in time to meet up with the girls.
At the Hotel de Paris, a large crowd had already gathered. Soon after, a motorcade with flags flapping in the wind circled the courtyard and came to a halt at the hotel entrance. Princess Grace emerged, and a great cheer arose. She wore a soft, cream-colored afternoon dress that floated gently as she moved. Her golden blond hair was swept up in a fashionable twist, over which she wore a light, wide-brimmed leghorn hat. She looked elegant and, well, regal.
She was just a few feet away when she reached out and placed her gloved hand on the head of a little boy in front of me. We all clapped as the boy made a quick bow, and she flashed him a dazzling smile.
The affair was a pre-nuptial party in honor of a government official's daughter in a large reception hall on the ground floor of the hotel. The crowd outside could watch the whole thing from the street level, peering in through the room's tall windows. Several times during the event, the princess raised her hand to wave and smile at those of us gathered outside. Each time she did, there was a roar of approval.
When the princess finally stood to leave, she kissed the bride-to-be lightly on both cheeks. Four guards stepped forward to escort her out through the cheering crowd. I was caught up in the spirit of those around me and cheered, too.
When I finally returned to the casino, my husband was just coming out of the gaming rooms, and the girls were hurrying toward us, waving eagerly and smiling. At their elbows were two young Frenchmen.
Each one of us had a story.
The girls introduced us to their new friends, who were race car drivers living in Nice. We chatted a bit with them through the girls, who translated. Then my husband told us about his time at the casino, where he had bought a few chips to play, but mostly watched as parties were bused in to gamble. He handed me two ashtrays that the guard had given him as a memento of our visit.
By then the day was fading. The French boys offered to drive us back to Nice. The ride home was fast, to put it mildly. At one point, my husband leaned over to check the speedometer. He gulped, "125?" My daughter, sensing his concern, said soothingly, "Don't worry, Dad. That's in kilometers."
In all the excitement, I never got around to telling my story. But as I held those ashtrays snatched from my rummage pile, I realized it hadn't taken much to bring it all back.
I remembered how carefully I had wrapped them to protect them from breaking in my suitcase more than 30 years ago. They were a reminder of one very special day in our lives.
Well, maybe I could keep just these two pieces for awhile longer, I told myself, placing them back on the knick-knack shelf. After all, there's always next year's rummage sale.
- LaVerne Hammond, who divides her time between Wisconsin and Florida, is an octogenarian at work on her memoirs. Write her in care of the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg FL 33731.
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