I took a second photo walk today at a local park, and I opted to switch between color and monochrome for various shots. The sight of the above photo evoked a memory of a flea market I visited with my sister on a spring Saturday afternoon 38 years ago.
At the time we lived a block away from Main Street, and there were varied, sometimes bizarre retail outlets littered along the street. One was a shop that was a thinly-veiled front for drug paraphernalia like bongs and coke cutters. I walked inside once and the clerk behind the counter quickly pointed an “Adults Only” sign. I was inside long enough to notice they were selling bootleg Mickey Mouse figurines that held “F*ck Iran!” picket signs. Around the corner from the head shop was an oddball, one-off plaza that seemed remarkable at the time for its sturdiness. It was as if it took its Cold War origin seriously enough to try to one-up the Soviet love of concrete and right angles.
The plaza was also unusual for its U shape which made it hard to see what sort of businesses dwelt there without penetrating the perimeter. After my micro-eviction from the head shop, I was wary of treading where I might not belong. I asked my sister if she’d come along to see what was inside the plaza. Once we arrived, we saw that nothing was open on the weekends except a TV shop and a flea market.
The flea market had plenty of vendor and customers, but there was nothing for sale that interested me. I lost sight of my sister within a minute of walking inside, and I was filled with dreadful boredom that quickly converted to an unreality of sorts. I suddenly felt as if I’d accidentally time traveled to sometime around 1966, but I landed not in some pivotal moment of history but on a lackluster Saturday retail afternoon in paltry Podunk Junction where everybody had just discovered polyester clothing.
Until I found my sister, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I hadn’t stumbled into a different era. We emerged from the concrete plaza to find that the sunny day had turned overcast and windswept. The song “Eleanor Rigby” played in my mind the whole way home.
When we walked in the door at home, I was relieved to see my mom cooking tacos in the kitchen and to hear my brother watching He-Man in the living room. As I feel asleep that night, I rested secure in the sense that I really was living in the year 1983, and I was grateful that time travel is impossible. I mean, who is to say that we’d be able to control such travel. What if we landed in some retail purgatory?
I took the above picture as I walked out of a grocery store this morning. The house paused in early remodeling a couple years ago.
The sight of it reminds that the past is both fragile and strong. I heard Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu” on the ride to the store, and the sound of it evoked one of the best parts of my childhood, which was right around the time the song peaked in popularity. As the song played, my late mother felt omnipresent with me. I was stuck dumb with joy.
While the feeling of my mother is strong, the particular memories attached to “Xanadu” are fragile. The details slowly fade away, yet the reasons why I cherish those memories grow stronger. I remember how people dressed, the clog shoes, corduroy and calico fabrics, the semi-apostolic hairdos on men. The people I remember sporting those styles are no longer young, and seeing their aging is kind of like watching the penumbra of my own eclipse.
The strong feeling I had of my mother as I heard the song tells me that time need not bode disintegration. There is life after death, and those who are no longer living life as we know it are closer than we could possibly imagine.
I wish I still had my Canon A520. It was a hot mess of a pocket camera that could take reflection shots that had an aura of unreality that I’ve not been able to approach with any other camera.