Monday afternoon, I sat in a living room a block from the Huntington Beach shore, surrounded by the effects of the life of Vi Cowden. I may be one of the last people to see them all under one roof.
Kim Ruiz, Cowden's only child, invited me to visit her mother's house shortly after the former World War II pilot died at 94. Ruiz and I, accompanied by her son and daughter, sorted through piles of plaques, magazines, book chapters, scrapbooks and, of course, the Congressional Gold Medal that Cowden won last year.
The mementos that Cowden left behind would make a natural subject for a museum. I've seen bigger museums devoted to less interesting people. Ruiz, though, had a different plan for cleaning out her mother's house.
"I'm going to let all the people who were most important to her pick one thing," she said, explaining that she would rather pass Cowden's possessions on to her friends and loved ones than let them gather dust in storage.