Friday, January 8, 2010

Preserving History

The summer I was ten or twelve years old,
I spent a lot of time with my best friend, Gwen.
Her grandpa had a neat old house in town
and we we go there on hot, lazy days-
fix fancy meals of bologna and Fritos -
and then spend the afternoon playing Nancy Drew.

The house was perfect.
Dark and velvety 
with a huge grandfather clock in the foyer.
The staircase opened up
to a hallway of a dozen doors-
most locked-
but all too silent and spooky to explore.

But, at the upstairs landing
there was a massive oak desk-
with matchbox drawers
and worn brass knobs-
and a desk chair
that had seen better days.

The desk was covered with
dog-eared scrapbooks,
leather-worn photo albums,
and volumes of sepia-toned pictures
from a time gone by.

We weren't really supposed to bother it.
But I took a good look once.

There were photographs of the town
when it was being established-
with horse drawn buggies
and corner taverns
and sidewalks of wood.

There were terrific grayed photos
of the city tornado,
couples of high society,
and storekeepers
cranking up their canvas awnings.

Gwen's grandpa owned the local newspaper
and this was a collection of many years worth
of stories and celebrations and milestones
of the community.

It was a young summer day-
long ago-
but that day has always stayed in my mind.

So perfect, 
that I can still smell
the musty odor of the construction paper pages
and feel the texture 
of the hard bound portfolios.

Thirty-five years later, 
I worked at that very same newspaper office.

I even took photos for the paper-
But none as striking and as powerful
as those in the past.

Mine were of beauty pageants
and stock car races
and the fender bender on Main Street.
The county fair,
the new strip mall,
the pumpkin farm east of town.

These digital images
were usually downloaded onto the computer
and then deleted later 
when the file
was no longer needed.

I think to myself how sad it is
that years from now,
there may not be those
photo albums and collected memories
for some one to enjoy.

Our history is being deleted.

It's the same with home photography...
One day there will be no bad pictures.
Anything less than perfect won't be kept.
Anything that is blurred or crooked, 
or not quite right-
will never make it to the photo disc.

Letters have a similar fate.
I empty out my e-mail.
Hit the delete button.
There's no little cardboard box 
in the closet with evelopes
tied in ribbon...

There are things I wish I had kept.
The last e-mail letter from my oldest sister,
a sweet digital thank-you note,
an online clip from someone's wedding....

We write to several people a day,
but, yet, do they recognize our handwriting?

Do we delight in the way they loop their "W's"
or the style of their alphabet?

Are there still such things as love letters-
hand written
and sealed with a kiss?

do something different
and make a difference.

Take  a hundred photographs
and throw away none.

Develop them on paper
and preserve them in a book.

Write a real letter
and mail it with a postage stamp.

Draw a smiley face on it,
or spray it with perfume.

So perfect....
So unexpected...
that it will burn in their memory
like a young summer day.