My eyes focused on the page, faded and pixelated, and recognized a few people immediately. I said their names: Davey, Marty, Priscilla, Marjorie, Ward, and …me. The old photographs were on a page from the 1960 yearbook of the school I attended in New Hampshire. I was surprised by the rush of adrenaline I got from seeing that page, peering at me across fifty-two years. My own smiling face seeming familiar and alien at the same time. A machine gun fired still images at me from that year, in rapid succession I was show my home on Long Island Sound, my boat, the New Hampshire woods, boiling maple sap into syrup, driving a tractor, milking cows, painting an old truck cab, snow skiing, building a tree house, driving my go kart, catching crab, flounder and lobster, and seeing the white-green-white pulse of Green’s Ledge Lighthouse out my window then the towering hardwoods at dusk in Rindge, NH. Such a full year, such a happy year, and so many memories.
The others in the photos came to life and I remembered them, how they sounded, the way they walked, the things they talked of most. I remembered them from my classes and my activities. I remembered them in the dining hall and watched us all interact as we ate our meal. And just as quickly as those memories came, they were gone, and I was this old man staring at some people I used to know, more than half a century ago. I sat in today and felt like Lazarus, so aged and distant from the recollections of youth. Was I ever really that young? Where are those people in the pictures? They too having traveled time to arrive at this day, are they still here? Do they breathe and feel and look back just as I?
Closing my eyes I try to recall more, and find the images fogged and illegible. Yet wide eyed and staring at these photos, I can see through them with amazing clarity. Spying, a voyeur of sorts. A wide eyed boy glimpsing a woman’s unmentionables by accident, and looking once again to confirm the sight. In a way I feel invasive, looking at these people and feeling like I’m prying somewhere intimate. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because I know the secrets behind my own smiling visage and I know their happy grins mask a thousand things just as mine does. A thousand things both happy and sad, exciting and tedious, surprising and boring. So many extremes and all in between. I get it. I’m not seeing people, I’m seeing a likeness, animated by my own spotty and faded memories. My glee at seeing them is temporary; they don’t really mean anything to me. Once my friends and peers they’re now strangers in my life. Only my memories of them are important, and only because they allow me to see my life by how they fit into it. On a bus stop bench, would we have much to say to one another? After “Remember so-and-so?” is done being played, we would drop one another into the coat pockets of our mind, forgotten like ticket stubs to a pleasant show seen so long ago. That fires my embarrassment; I have just caught myself in a moment of ego, using the sight of others to remember myself, my life. They are merely signposts, demoted from personhood by my greedy desire to touch and taste and feel that time so very long past. I guess I do care about them after all, I feel bad I used them.
But the memories! Fixing up and driving an old Model A Ford, listening to short wave radio at night when I should be sleeping. Dozing the next day in a steam heated classroom listening to a lecture about Silas Marner. The huge winter storm that buried us all. Waiting a week for the town Payloaders to dig out our road. Seeing the furrows of planting and sighting my .22 on the woodchuck’s devouring the roots of our plantings. It was a different time from now. A different time and a different place, so different that it wasn’t even the same country anymore. The country had grown up and so had I. So now I spend my time, thinking about my mortality and the way it used to be, and I take the ride down memory lane riding on the faces of the people I see in these ancient photographs.
There ought to be something profound in all of this, but there really isn’t. It’s just a display of the wheel of time, the passing of generations, the cycle of life repeated again and again. The events and people I am inspecting, turning them over and over in my mental hands are no longer real. They are, as the Beatles sang so long ago, Strawberry Fields forever. Nothing is real. Nothing is real because it’s the past. And while the past is stepping stones that brought be to this point in time, here today, those times no longer exist, ergo, they don’t matter. At least, that’s how it should be, my mind reasons. Yet I am finding myself with all of these memories and finding myself recognizing all of these people. I guess it all strikes me as kind of weird. No wonder we old farts get senile; what mind could stand up to the stresses of over analyzed pasts and stay in the groove?
I wonder if I will go to bed tonight and dream about these people. I kind of doubt it, but one never knows. It’s already kind of dream state-like as I look at these photographs, look at myself, and ask again if I was really ever that young? Maybe it all might have been easier had I a drawer full of photo albums from the past. But I don’t. Circumstances have robbed me of all the memorabilia. My own youth’s memories claimed by a fire, and then my children’s youthful trappings claimed by a stupid landlord who sent them to the incinerator thinking I had abandoned them when I was only half moved out of my apartment. For the longest time, the only photographs or trinkets I had reached back at most a mere four years. Four lousy years out of almost sixty-five. The accidental reunion of these old images is like a shock to my system. So maybe I see these kinds of reminders differently than others. Of course, my memories are, pretty much, all I have left, what with my sunset anxiously tapping its toes and impatiently awaiting my arrival in posterity. To be so close to the end perhaps over-values these tidbits of yesterday.
At any rate, It’s also good and cheering to see these old faces that take me back in my life. Paying my freight on a trip to yesteryear even if it’s just for a moment.