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Walking backward through time

We bought this camera several years ago. It fits neatly in the pocket and was the best thing going before the iPhone put a decent camera in their apparatus. The pocket camera served me well for several years, dating, to, I think, 2011.

Evidence on the camera points to that time. Running through the pictures from most recent backward, I ask myself, where was I? What is this place? Who are these people? Who was I?

Going back there are pictures I took on the JCCC campus and the lovely pink and white redbud trees. I must have been trying to capture the wonders of spring that I miss during my annual downturn, when the light’s too bright and the days too long. I see the wonder. It’s there. But I’m distant from it, dreaming of dark, rainy days and walking the dogs at night.

I know the tree pictures came from last spring, 2016. How innocent we were then! We hadn’t yet fallen into a knock-down between a neoliberal war hawk and a vulgar pussy grabber. Nuclear war seemed a distant memory of an absurd geopolitical conflict that sprouted a host of wars and coups. Those were tender days.

The next series of photos come from the trip we took to Washington, DC, on spring break. Flipping through, I live the experience backward. Here is the Library of Congress, the tour we took on the last day before we got on the train back to Kansas City. The camera captured the interiors beautifully.

I look at the picture of the reading room and remember when I was there in the summer of 1992 researching the Robert Taft Papers. What a frightened, overwrought puss I was then, taking things way too seriously. I remember sitting there, going through file after file, looking for who knows what.

Our trip to the Library showed me a different aspect of the place. This time, instead of sitting with the researchers, we looked down on them from a balcony. I told Virginia and Nick all about the experience 24 years before. Nick admired my escapades as a graduate student.

Further pictures show us traipsing through the usual sights in Washington. The Mall, the Smithsonian museums, the United States Botanic Garden. We have pictures of us on the Metro, which was a wonder to us. We hopped the train every day and it took us exactly where we wanted to go, all with just a few minutes wait at the stop. Washingtonians complained about their trains, but when you come from a place that hardly has a bus system . . .

Ethan and Grahame Williams

Next in the backward march of time comes a trip we took to St. Louis on Halloween 2015. My good friend Grahame Williams had traveled from Sydney with his son Ethan. Grahame had a conference in Chicago and drove down to St. Louis to meet us, he thought, halfway between the Windy City and Kansas City. We spent the day in downtown, seeing the courthouse and the riverfront, finally going up the Gateway Arch to view the Mississippi from 636 feet up.

My friend Eddy Harris had just canoed across the river and called us while we were up in the Arch. He was making his second trip down the river from Minnesota, this time with a film crew and a house boat. We looked down and there he was, waving at us with the phone to his ear. We had a wonderful chat and lunch with Eddie before we saw him off at the riverbank. Everyone smiles. We all look like we want to be exactly where we are.

As I dial back the pictures, I slowly gain back my beard a mustache, the one I must have had in 2014. Nick snapped the pictures. The series starts with me, hair pulled back, sporting a Hitler-stache. I move to a Sam Elliot, then to a D’Artagnan. For a minute I had mutton chops. The beard fills in white with a peppered-brown mustache. With long hair, I looked very Duck Dynasty, which is probably why I chopped the thing off before turning Old Mormon.

Here’s a picture of Virginia and Nick with the Chinese Acrobats. Our friends Jeph and Cherie lent us their timeshare in Branson in January 2014. We had gone to see the acrobats, the only show worth seeing in that tacky town besides Shoji Tabuchi. I caught Nick in various freeze-frames: in the air as he jumped in the pool, as he entered the water on a dive, and as he swam backwards with just his nose above the water.

The condo was on the White River and a chain link fence stood between the property and the river. I was melancholy, wanting to go down to the river and remembering the trout I’d pulled out of that stream. But it was a good weekend, very relaxing. Outside of a walk through part of Branson and a trip to the acrobats, we just laid around and took Nick to the pool.

Now, we see pictures from a trip to Welch, OK, to visit Vera, Virginia’s mom. People I don’t know and don’t remember people the rooms of Vera’s house. Who knows when we made that trip. It was probably just good enough to see Vera in her environs.

The summer of 2013, my family on my mom’s side had gathered in town for a reason now lost to me. We stand together at Taqueria Mexico in the back room. Pictures catch us in various conversations. My dad reads the newspaper, something very in character for him. I remember when we were growing up, we would go to family gatherings and my dad would always take up a book or newspaper. He didn’t know how to engage, how to converse with people.

I know the feeling. My first impulse at a family gathering is to withdraw. But having had my father as an example, I tend to jump into conversation instead of back away from it. There’s always something to talk about—a person’s job, what they do for hobbies, where they see themselves going. The gathering isn’t always about me. I have to make it about other people.

The camera reaches back through spring 2013 and the time Nick and I drove to Cleveland to see Grahame when he came to Cleveland to a conference of child psychologists. If he could come 10,000 miles from Sydney, we could drive 900 miles to see him. There are pictures of us traveling along the shores of Lake Erie the one day Grahame had free for us. Among these pictures are many of the horizon out on the lake. The endless water fascinated Nick and me, two landlocked Midwesterners. Grahame had a good laugh at us with our noses pressed to the car windows. Nearly everyone in Australia lives within 25 miles of the sea, so a big lake was nothing to him.

The pictures go on, through my first summer as a beekeeper in 2012. My German friends who came to visit us that season are there, and this brings back fond memories that remind me just how time speeds up as we grow older and just how much time has passed.

Nick gets younger and smaller, and soon, I am with my friends in the Georgia woods in August 2012. Then, it is my birthday in 2011—11-11-11. Virginia rented a room at the Phillips Hotel that night, with food, drink, and a DJ. I see that this was the last time I saw some of these people and it reminds me I should be better at making sure I keep contact with people so dear to me.

Soon, I am back in the Georgia wood with my friends in August 2011. The pictures go even farther back, through a period when I was obsessed with photography. The pictures are artful, thoughtful. They are good images.

Then, Nick is in the school around the corner at a student presentation when, suddenly, the roll ends with the first picture I took on the phone. It is of my friend Rob Eckhardt. I don’t remember where we are but I do have Rob down as a dear friend who has moved away. I haven’t talked to him much since, and I can’t rightly remember when he got his job as a internet/tech analyst as a result of a hard-earned mathematics degree.

A lifetime, that’s what it is. The camera is old technology now, though it still takes great pictures. I have decided that I will put it in my pocket and start taking photos with it again. I may be in this chair in five or ten years looking through an album of my life, moments captured in pictures.

I wonder who will ever see these pictures but me. Who will care? About 25 years ago, I went through a house undergoing demolition once in a Midtown neighborhood that no longer exists. I came across a stack of photos. So, this is where we end up, I said to myself.

So, this is where we end up. But in all likelihood, the camera battery will quit charging. The memory card may be lost. If found, the technology of the time may not read it. At least, those people in the demolished neighborhood left a record. I doubt if I will.

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