Unprompted: Mementos 

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Yes, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention. Not talking about regrets here. While not my obsession, for many a personalized something from the past is worth whatever difficulty was involved in getting it.

A book, even one I have written, is worth more if the author has signed it. I’ve actually had people ask me to sign books written by someone else. It’s a thing. Some readers won’t buy a book without an author’s signature, or a signature of someone.

I have a few books written by well-known authors that are unsigned, but I don’t really care. I bought the books because I wanted to read them. For example, my copy of “Age of Reason” is unsigned. It wasn’t intended to be a precious keepsake anyway — I just wanted to hear what Thomas Paine had to say. He should have retired after “Common Sense,” but he went out on a limb and paid the price. No one wanted his signature on “Age of Reason.” But no matter, if you want one of my books signed I will be flattered and write on it anything you want. I’ll even sign “War and Peace” if you bring me a copy.

Years ago I obtained the autograph of Ray Charles. Got it at a performance in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was a student at the time and wandered away from Carson-Newman University to see Ray. (I should have never been at Carson-Newman in the first place, but that’s another story.) I loved Ray Charles and at the intermission followed him to a little room where he and a woman I didn’t know sat and waited to return to the stage. The room was an abandoned ticket window and through the little opening where money and tickets were exchanged, I pushed a paper and asked for an autograph. She handed it to him, he signed it, and then put his head back down on the table where it had been when I showed up to bother him.

I valued the Ray Charles autograph and often bragged about it. But some years later, during one of my many moves, I lost that little piece of paper. I wish today I still had the Ray Charles autograph but it’s gone. It meant something to me and still does. After all, I just told you about it — 50 years after the fact.

The only other thing with meaning that I’ve been able to hold onto is a small piece of brick from the Berlin Wall. I pried it loose in 1964 during a visit to Berlin. When the wall came down in 1989 there were millions of little pieces that were grabbed up by souvenir hunters and many of them were sold. Some pieces that did not come from the wall were sold by vendors claiming that they did. What does it matter? If you believe something is something, it’s something.

My little piece of brick is different. I stole it at a time when there were guys several yards away holding automatic rifles watching me, eager to shoot someone. It was a time when East Germans worked for months to tunnel under the wall dreaming of freedom. Many of them died. My little brick was part of that awful period. It looks like any other little piece of brick, but I know where I got it and it means something to me.

Years ago my television co-anchor Sabrina Squire and I landed in a helicopter behind the pitcher’s mound at The Diamond, waved to the crowd, and then watched the game and subsequent fireworks. It was a hot night so we retreated just before the fireworks ended to a big white limousine hoping to beat the crowd. From there we watched the last firecracker, then climbed in only to have the driver tell us the car wouldn’t start. The crowd was pouring out of The Diamond by then, so Sabrina and I stood beside the limousine and signed autographs. Then I looked across the hood to see the driver, who also was signing autographs. Some people just like autographs.

A utility truck from the television station gave us a ride back to work and we left the stranded driver beside his big white limo signing autographs.

I would have probably gotten his if we weren’t in such a hurry. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.

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