The past week I have largely occupied my time dusting off memories. Literally. Like me, even in a box they collect mold and dust. Unlike me, I can use a soft brush to remove the bulk of the blemishes.
Stacked beside my table are a dozen Carousel trays, most of them full or nearly so, each capable of holding 40, 80 or 140 “slides” – color transparencies recording glimpses of my path to here, including images of Hong Kong mixed with frames of Sicily and Italy and Germany and Thailand, the memories stirred like a marbled cake.
Some of the pictures are hazy, probably owing to poor exposure settings by the photographer. There is some analogy there, I suspect, to the memories the pictures invoke. Even some of the sharp and perfectly exposed frames have me wondering what they were about.
In one, I knew the young man in the photo, but not where or why he was sitting behind a group of soda bottles. “Remember when 7up came in glass bottles?” (The last were in 1984, I believe.) Subsequent slides, matched with another group of images, revealed the occasion was the wedding of one of his 11 siblings, of which my wife was the eldest. That’s a lot of weddings. We used to joke that when Mom wanted a particular kid, she’d start calling names until the correct child showed up.
Filaments of dust and stains make some of the pictures slightly less than perfect – like the stories a friend and I occasionally tell. We were together in the memory-making, but sometimes there are filaments and stains.
There are some of Christmas, taken by my dad, probably in 1954 because the inside of the box is stamped by the developer, May 16, 1955. A few frames show me in my First Communion suit and tie, which clearly I did not like even then.
It’s good to know from whence comes my occasional procrastination in developing film. Some of the date stamps on the slide mounts are years after the trips they depict. And they are so out of order. But of course, there was no rush. Most of the pictures were taken to show later to people who had not been there.
Other of Dad’s Kodachromes are of my brother, sister and me sitting in snow. Not on celluloid, but deeply in brain cells, are the outhouse just up the driveway, and the lake on which we vacationed and would shortly thereafter take up residence, in time for me to start Fourth Grade.
In the snow pictures, I, had not yet broken my front teeth – which happened when the chain-driven tricycle I was driving, fast as I could pedal, flipped as I tried to negotiate the corner in front of the apartment house.
The trike belonged to a “girlfriend” who lived in the building. I had been forbidden to ride it because my parents considered it dangerous. That day I was expected to be returning home with a purchase from the green-grocer. But there was the girl and the trike and there were no parents in sight.
Generally, the pictures span the 20 years I was in the Navy, traveling the world and, at times, helping my wife raise our children. Part of what drove me to retire was I’d been sending my money to a family I didn’t know nearly as well as I knew I should have.
Some of the images may seed future stories, and some will simply remind me of where I’ve been and how that led to now. As C.W. McCall, one of my favorite balladeers, sang, “memories are like starlight: they go on forever.”
At the opening of 2014, I wish all a warming starlight that goes on forever.