Share in the bittersweet nostalgia of a yesteryear…as found in our November magalog.
Story by the ever-talented and ever-worldly Ariane Marder.
Recently, I’ve taken to unloading and disposing of those possessions that no longer serve me. I started with clothes, then beauty samples, then extra linens — a simple exercise in tidying up. Finally, it’s the daunting task of putting my memories in order by going through old photos. It’s not something I’ve been looking forward to. A part of me feels it might be best if these images were locked away somewhere, and that the past — and all its sentimentality — is better left behind.
But it has to be done. I spread the photos out before me and begin to stack them by event, an autobiographical timeline, the evidence laid out before me like I’m a detective on a crime show. They are simple reminders of the passage of time, I tell myself, moments never meant to be reproduced. Sitting on my living room floor, I sift through the past, unearthing pockets of time I have stashed away deep in the fabric of my brain. I wore THAT to graduation? Why was I always drawn to such unfortunate prints? So, my eye has always been a little wonky when I smile; it’s not a product of age, after all. Oh right, I remember that ring. How did I lose that? Why did my mom always dress me like Nicky from Big Love for picture day?
And then there it is: the photo that stops time. It’s a 3×5″ I’ve kept in a frame — a cheap cardboard one that opens up like a book. There are no others. There isn’t a stack for me to put it in. No before and no after. Just this one moment. There he is. My father. Younger than I ever remember him. His hair is not yet that shock of white I recall, but it’s certainly as wild. He holds a pipe in his teeth and wears a sly smile, and he has that light in his eye that signaled all was right with the world. Behind him, the stretch of rolling snow-covered meadows that served as our playground and — right smack in the center of the frame — his ’88 Land Cruiser in shiny cobalt blue.
Looking at the picture in my hands, I can smell the car’s interior — a mixture of dog and kerosene that my parents kept on hand for space heaters. I feel the synthetic upholstered seats and see the imprint they left on the backs of my thighs after the long drive up north. I hear the low growl the engine made when it climbed the dirt driveway to the house. Dad loved that car, in the way men are known to love their toys. And so I did as well.
I must have been ten years old.
In a few years, Dad would be gone. Cancer would claim him. In a few more, in an act of rebellion, I would copy the key and hide it under my bed so that I could take the car while my mother was away. I’d pick up my friends and drive it around town, ducking down behind the steering wheel each time I saw someone I thought I recognized. When I finally passed my driver’s test, I would act as if the car were my own, often driving just to be going someplace else. I drove that Land Cruiser until the power steering started to fail, and the body shook every time I pushed 65 mph. And each time I got into that car, I would feel my father. Sometimes it would hurt, sometimes it would sting, sometimes I’d get a whiff of nostalgia mixed with kerosene, but more often than not it would offer a cocoon of comfort. That hunk of blue painted metal was the best grief counselor I ever had. It didn’t ask how old I was. It didn’t tell me what to do and where to go. It let me steer. I was to be the driver of my destiny, though sadness, heartache and all the ridiculous, infantile fun I had to get away with to know what was good for me.
Lucky me, I have the photo to remind me.
+ Is there a photo, a drawing, a letter in your life that bears significant emotion? Please share below.