I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking of the past. I don’t really like to do that – makes me sad – even the good memories are bittersweet because they mostly involve people no longer living and places I enjoyed to which I’ll likely never return, or if I do, will not be the same.
Although these periods come more often as I get older, thankfully they don’t last very long. I soon leave nostalgia behind and rejoin the present.
When I’m in my most melancholy state I often grab several shoeboxes full of old snapshots from a closet in one of my unused bedrooms, sit on the bed and go through the photos one by one. I’ve scanned many of them and have them on my PC but there is something special about holding a photo in you hand. Anyway, that’s how I spent this past Sunday afternoon.
Memory is a strange thing. I look at some photos of myself and have no memory of when or where they were taken. It’s almost as if that’s a different person in another life who happens to look like me. It is most disconcerting when there are others I know in the photos. In either case those experiences have been totally erased from my memory banks.
Other photos, though, elicit vivid recall, as if they were taken recently. They are the ones that provide the most bittersweet reactions. One such photo was this blurry snapshot taken of me during the Labor Day weekend in 1957.
Even as I type this I can feel the softness of that towel against my face. I had just finished shaving – the only time in my life that I shaved outdoors. I was camping with my sister and her husband and children in the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River at the border between New York State and the Canadian Province of Ontario – the only time in my life that I went camping and slept in a tent. On that trip I also went fishing – the only time in my life. Several first and only things – I knew about the firsts but obviously was unaware that they would be singular experiences. That entire trip is vividly etched in my memory as if it had happened a few weeks ago instead of fifty-three years ago this next week.
I was not aware that my sister was taking this photo. Sometime later when she showed it to me I asked her why she had taken a photo of me from behind. She said “because that’s your best side.” Hmmm……. 😦
I was 18 years old – the camping trip was during the period between the ending of my summer job and the start of the fall semester of my second year of college. I so remember my state of mind back then. Despite all my hangups, and I definitely had some, and my apprehensions, I was eagerly and positively looking towards my future. I was sure that I was going to have a meaningful life. I was probably as happy then as I’ve ever been.
The me in the photo no longer exists except in my mind – actually only his memories do. I can’t communicate with him. I can’t tell him how sorry I am that I failed so miserably to live up to his hopes and expectations.I guess it’s best he didn’t know.