How a thumb drive became the catalyst for understanding decades of living. Perspective changes everything.
I sense a smile on the face of fate today.
Sunshine radiates through the atmosphere adding warmth to the crisp autumn air, balancing the brisk breeze to a perfect temperature. Changing seasons bring a peaceful contentment as time moves forward with discipline and familiarity.
I pulled into the driveway of the cute little senior housing fourplex my Mom calls home. The sidewalk strolls past a favorite diner for the local hummingbirds and onto a cozy two-seater sized porch with a perimeter of traditional white railing. She has never been sentimental about where she resides. A fact much appreciated by my brother and I as the move into a senior-friendly residence became necessary. We almost lost Mom. Thanks to plumbing and electrical repairs on her heart, her reunion with Dad will have to wait.
Delayed beginnings are a scenario not unfamiliar to her.
Mom and I are knee-deep in the inevitable swapping of roles. We reminisce about favorite memories, go to doctor appointments and discuss how to operate modern technology. Unconditional love includes tutorials on navigating the internet and assistance with accessing voicemail messages from a cell phone.
On this particular autumn day, Mom and I sit at her dining room table sifting through a deteriorated boot box overstuffed with old photos and faded newspaper clippings. Each item removed from the box with curious anticipation. Duplicates, blurry pictures, and the I-don’t-know-who-this-is photos are mentally erased from further thought by the time the photo lands on the top of the trash pile. Other items advance to the labeling of people phase and finally to the sorting ceremony. A manila envelope of history for each family member, whether they want it or not.
Dangling in my future are tedious hours of scanning photos into the computer and sharing access via the cloud, a.k.a. today’s version of the tattered boot box. The excavation of each layer of history reveals more of the same until the dining room light shines upon a lost relic.
My pulse quickens as my mind calculates the potential held within the discovery our expedition has unearthed. An 8mm tape of Mom’s high school senior trip to St. Louis, MO in 1958. Two weeks and fifty dollars later, I drive home with three minutes and twelve seconds of history on a thumb drive. The picture quality is grainy and mostly black and white. A few flashes of color pop into the images here and there. Not bad considering the number of years spent in storage.
The cars, the clothes, and the hairstyles are classic 1950’s in action. Oxford wearing girls in poodle skirts smile and wave excitedly at the camera. Mom grins and giggles as she recognizes friends from long ago. Her smile fades a bit as she struggles to recollect the memories long buried under a pile of once significant moments. The film is a reminder that a lifetime has happened.
The choppy blurred footage held nothing unexpected … at first.
At about the two-and-a-half-minute mark, the film unveiled a special surprise. The senior trip footage ended, and the film cut to a different scene. On the screen in front of me, smiling as they walked arm in arm, were young versions of my parents. Not just images in a still photo, but living, moving people. Dad, smartly outfitted in his army attire, reached up to straighten his hat. He said something that made Mom laugh. Mom, beaming with happiness in her pretty summer dress, reached up to bring Dad’s hand back down to her side.
Luggage was loaded into their 1955 Pontiac and they drove off into the direction of a new beginning. No glancing back in the rearview mirror. Eyes and hearts focused on the road ahead.
As they drove into adulthood, I instinctively reached toward them. As if they could see me 60 years in the future, fixated by the history unfolding on my laptop screen. In the midst of my life built by the consequences of many choices, I witness my architects laying the first twigs of the nest I call home. A tear traveled down to touch the smile on my face.
This was the beginning of everything.
This moment led to who, what and where I am today. I have seen pictures of my parents from their younger days dozens of times, but it was this instant that the angle of my perception tilted. Coming into view underneath the dark, bold label of PARENTS were the faded remnants of the word PEOPLE.
A Long Beginning
Dad had been drafted into the army and was on a two-week leave when they had gotten married by a Justice of the Peace in July of 1958. A simple wedding ceremony; no time for excess and transformation into a bridezilla.
The honeymoon would have to wait.
The newlyweds had to journey to Fort Hood, Texas for Dad’s basic training. Military housing meant living in a cockroach-infested apartment building. Not the ideal threshold to cross with his new bride, but the choice was not voluntary. Two and a half months passed and Mom was now an expert marksman at killing cockroaches. Dad departed Ft. Hood on a year and half deployment to Freidburg, Germany, and Mom returned to Kansas to live with her parents.
The honeymoon would have to wait a bit longer.
For the next eighteen months, they would not hear the sound of the other’s voices. When they longed to feel a comforting touch, solace could be found only in gazing at photographs.
No skype, no email, no cell phones. Handwritten letters and notes written on photographs were the only means of bringing each to the other’s world. Dad shared many photographs of life in Germany, including a few of Elvis Presley who was also stationed in Germany at that time. Mom’s thoughts were never focused on Elvis. He was not her soldier.
Fresh baked cookies, each individually wrapped with plastic wrap, made the near month-long journey from Kansas to Germany. It was not a time of instantaneous living and overnight delivery.
Life was shared slowly, paced by patience and understanding.
There is no tragic sob story. It was peacetime. No one was traumatically injured or captured by an enemy. Neither was sinking into depression or suffering political injustice. No call to awareness was needed for the plight of this young couple and the sacrifices they endured. Their story is a typical tale about the everyday struggles of ordinary people face to face with the challenges of their generation. People doing what had to be done and growing stronger in the process.
Glancing over to my husband, I wonder how that kind of heartache must feel. I wonder if our love could endure. I wonder, if our life ever evolved into a life of separation, would I wake one day to find the agony of his absence no longer crushing my heart. Or would I stand in my kitchen carefully wrapping cookies as a token of my devotion to him? I wonder …
The End of the Beginning
Dad’s obligations to Uncle Sam ended and this young couple was reunited without applause. Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa unceremoniously met Dad at the airport and brought him home. No banners, no balloons, no fodder for the evening news. Reunion marked the private closing of a door, the end of a long-delayed beginning. Almost two years after the I do’s, the not-so-newlyweds finally took a honeymoon trip to California to play at Disneyland and drive through the scenic redwoods.
The threshold of a modest little home was crossed for a second new beginning. The most trying times are often the most memorable. Struggles can fracture a union beyond repair or add layer upon layer of meaningful depth to a relationship that spans decades.
My parents started out walking hand in hand on that narrow sidewalk on a quiet street in a small Kansas town in 1958. The beginning captured on 8mm film was the genesis, the origin moment of my heroes.
I see them alive on the screen and I get who they are. I understand I am them. Three minutes and twelve seconds of history traveled through time from 8mm film, to a digital thumb drive and finally to a home somewhere in the cloud, accessible by clicking an icon on a desktop screen.
I wonder if digitized love will ever be as meaningful as the scraps of love collected in a boot box.