vested: having an unquestionable right to the possession of property or a privilege, says my Encarta Dictionary. Since acquiring an Andrea Doria life jacket from fellow survivor Joe Griffith, I feel only an honor and a privilege, rather than a right. I’ve been yearning for one ever since attending the 50th survivors’ reunion; Robert McDonald brought his along and I donned it for picture taking.
Now I have my own; I’m thrilled! The life vest is like my emblem—I feel like life’s ultimate survivor in so many ways: surviving a childhood without parents, tuberculosis, a catastrophe at sea, a dysfunctional family, poverty during college, the death of a spouse at 33, and a divorce at 51, among other trials. I’m not lamenting, but rather flaunting my resilience…I think.
But more importantly, I wanted the vest because it symbolizes an important part of my past, of which I had nothing except yellowed newspaper articles. People just didn’t think about keeping the memory alive while in a state of trauma: my mother immediately threw away the outfit I was wearing that fateful night of July 25-26. “It was covered with oil stains,” she explained to me recently.
And to think that this beautiful piece of memorabilia was almost lost a few times. Joe explained that as a 17-year-old, he had the forethought to keep his vest on, while other survivors removed theirs and threw them onto a pile at a New York pier. More recently, he had gifted it to a historical museum that had the gall to lose it. In an email, Joe explained:
“As related to you earlier, these items, including the life-jacket, were lost in a
plutocratic mess-up. It was only by contacting a local TV station, KFOR thatthe items were found and returned to me.”
When Joe’s life jacket arrived from Oklahoma, I opened the box hesitantly, not knowing how I would feel. It was eerie seeing the faded, oil-stained ‘treasure’ with its identification still visible:
SOCIETA’ DE NAVIGAZIONE
CINTURA DI SALVATAGGIO
Canepa e Campi
Observing me, my companion, Richard, remarked, “I’m surprised you’re not in a hurry to pull it out of the box!” I found myself stalling, almost as if the vest had some kind of curse! My hands were clammy and my heart raced; but then I knew I had to move beyond this. I asked Richard, a photographer, to take some photos of me donning the lifejacket. How weird! In all of the pictures, I looked forlorn! It seems that I couldn’t shake the state of mind from 52 years ago. Maybe it does hold the memories within.
Even the ‘ultimate survivor’ sometimes relives the past.
Joe has asked me if I want his scrapbook from that era. Of course I do! I’m curious about anything that will help me put the pieces together that I ignored for almost 50 years. Surviving the Andrea Doria calamity was a defining part of my life.
Thank you, Joe, for preserving and sharing the memories with me.