Monday, February 16, 2009

The Album
In the crowded antique store, next a hideous lamp featuring a coy shepherdess casting a longing glance at a long-misplaced shepherd, I found the album. The cover was battered maroon leather with “Our Photographs” lettered in flaking gold leaf, the final “s” just a smear of color after an “h” missing its neck.

The pages were thick and black; corners felt-softened through the years. Inside was a parade of black and white faces secured in place with black cardboard triangles. Weddings. Vacation trips. A graduation. But mostly just snapshots of people captured for no special reason except to save their faces. A few of the pages had captions written in silver ink, someone identifying individuals for ancestors who apparently didn’t care enough to save the book.

“Edgar and Tommy at the Lake” showed two young men mugging for the camera. Twenties’ style bathing suits looking laughable to modern eyes. The blur of a running dog suggesting movement denied to the forever-young faces, caught for posterity in exaggerated poses of the circus strongman. In the background the unnamed lake glistened flat and still like a Sears portrait studio backdrop.

“Janie, Mirella, and the Quigley’s, Logan Street” was written under a photo of children standing in front of a white house, the shade of some unseen tree rendering half the group in shadow while the others squinted into the distance.

The photo I liked the best had no caption. It depicted a young woman with a preposterously large had seated proudly in the driving seat of an immense dark car. Beneath the hat was an oddly modern-looking face. She looked more like a contemporary woman in her grandmother’s clothes than a woman of her day. Put her in jeans and a sweatshirt and she’d fit in at The Gap. But here she was an early daredevil with a Ford. I wondered where she was going, or where she had come from. Did she know Edgar and Tommy and Janie or was she another branch of the family?

Towards the end of the album there were blank pages waiting to be filled on, and one snapshot tucked in between pages, not stuck down. It was a crooked picture, slightly out of focus, of a couple sitting on a rock. Even with the bad photography it was easy to see that he looked at her like she was the sun and the moon. She was gazing towards the camera, past the photographer, at something that made her laugh. There was something about them that told me they were in love.

I turned to the inside front cover. $15.00 it said in faint pencil on a white label. Little enough for someone’s memories, I thought, and tucked the book under my arm.

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