At the ripe age of 48, I decided that I am both old and selfish enough to buy myself Christmas gifts. My inaugural gift was a Canon SX540 HS point-and-shoot camera, intended to be the heir of the A520. The A520 is still my favorite, but I took so many pictures with it in the mid-aughts that I broke the shutter.
In the past few months, I’ve seldom had the time or favorable light to try the new camera. This morning I took it downtown in hope of capturing some reflections (which is something the low-end Canons seem to do with ease).
ACME Photo has been defunct for about a decade. It is where I made the jump to DSLR photography. So many camera shops in many other cities have also closed between then and now. This morning, I stood outside and reminisced of a time when I stood on the very same sidewalk and dreamed of being able to afford the wares within.
It’s been too long since I’ve answered the proverbial siren call of an abandoned building. Nowadays I wouldn’t dare enter such a building uninvited, and it is in the nature of a derelict building that no one is going to issue such an invitation. When I was on the verge of my teenage years, I’d just open the door and walk around inside. The inside of such places would smell like mice and old magazines, and there would often be a dusty upright piano in residence.
This reflection on abandoned buildings brings my mother to mind. Years after the fact, I mentioned my solitary habit of going inside such buildings, and she told me that she did the same thing when she was around the same age! This led to a tangential discussion of haunted places, and she said something that revealed how bold her mind could be, “Who’s to say that only the dead can haunt people? We may have left impressions of ourselves in places where we used to live. For all we know, images of how we were in the past could be haunting people who now live in those places.”
Back to today’s abandoned building, it looks like it hosted both a barbershop and a church. The church sign is much older than I’d have guessed. I looked up the pastor listed, and I found his obituary from 2007, and he was living several states away from Lima at that time.
There are still plenty of barbershops and churches in Lima, but this building in particular makes me wish that it were a portal to the past. To have heard some of the sermons delivered would have been a privilege indeed. Also, my husband said that he had his hair cut at that very barbershop about 50 years ago. I’d love to have witnessed a moment like that from his past. I didn’t meet him until he was 50, so I can only imagine his young self clad in flared pants and a long-collared shirt as he walked into Allen’s Barbershop.
I’m still motoring through Agatha Christie’s back catalog, and the novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? has me impressed with how quickly its various characters are able to communicate by post or phone. It has me thinking that I too once lived in a world free of email or cell phones, and I don’t recall having much trouble making plans with friends or family if I wanted to emerge from my hermitage.
I can’t seem to remember how we arranged times or places with accuracy. I really can’t remember how we made things happen, how for instance we’d know to show up in front of the bookstore on a particular day and time. I don’t remember anyone failing to show up for such rendezvous. Late at times, yes, but absent, no.
This failure of memory seems absurd to me. It’s not like the first generation of car drivers forgot how to ride horses or how to read a train schedule. The part of my brain responsible for remembering how I made plans before I had a cell phone must be the same region that eventually forgets the particulars of a brand logo once a new one is adopted. This brand-forgetfulness has been a lifelong minor plague. When I was seven years old, my family passed through a small town that still had an older version of the K-Mart logo. The relief I felt at seeing the older logo was akin to dreaming of a friend I hadn’t seen in years (and said friend looking the same as when I last saw him or her). It’s the relief of knowing that your memory is longer and deeper than you suspect, even if your mental search engine doesn’t deliver an answer when you want it.
Now I feel like a cell phone is a shopping necessity. I could miss a call or text from home asking me to add something to my cart. Or, heaven forbid, I could “lose” my daughter or husband in the store. This is a part of life before cell phones that I do remember. My mom had a knack for disappearing in department stores. The larger the store, the greater the probability she’d slip away while I was thumbing through 45 rpm music singles or combing through a shirt display to find one in my size (which I could get only if it was on sale). I’d look up and Mom would be nowhere in sight. I’d spend the next half hour wandering the store and finding her only at the moment I’d given her up as lost for good. I’d spot her right before she slipped into some alternate retail reality where the pictures of mothers and not children are to be seen on milk cartons.
I’d have appreciated some way of knowing exactly where she was, but a cell phone would have diluted her mystique I suppose. Unless she went missing in a store, I had persistent knowledge of her whereabouts. I didn’t have to wonder if she was in the bathroom or the backyard or the planet Venus. I just knew. Perhaps such transparency was exhausting at times.
How did we let others know where we’d be and when we’d get there?
Last year I had the great privilege of borrowing my late great grandfather Cook’s photo collection, which I scanned. I’ve seen few pictures of my other three great grandfathers. When I opened the boxes of Great Grandpa Cook’s pictures, I was stunned at the volume of photos, and to a lesser extent, the fashion sense of some of my ancestors. He had many pictures of his siblings, too. I get the feeling that he and his five siblings cemented their bond over the years by sending portraits to each other, in addition to the usual family snapshots.
Some of these portraits reveal a great depth of feeling. My second great aunt Mabel looks to have been a master of relating the ongoing story of her life just by a look on her face. This one is a photo booth picture, which was the selfie machine of its time I suppose:
Great Grandpa Cook worked as a pastry baker at a local hotel for 20+ years, where he was known as the “Pie Foreman” in local newspaper ads:
He developed baker’s lung mid-career and switched to an occupation with more retirement security, school custodian. There were lots of school pictures of his custodian days in the box of photos, such as these two, which I find deeply amusing:
Yesterday I assembled my favorites and made a slideshow video of them. I highly recommend making this kind of video to anyone who has lots of photos of their ancestors. I used Windows Movie Maker, a super basic video editor. All I had to do was drag and drop the pictures into the program and choose a transition preset. I uploaded my video to Facebook and YouTube and was delighted to see these pictures play on my living room TV.
The light bouncing from the reservoir was so bright it laid bare the floaters in my eyes. This capture reminds me of getting a Bontempi organ for Christmas when I was child with a failed Dorothy Hamill haircut. On that organ, I picked out the melody to the alien signal from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was rare escape from my usual tone deafness.