I can’t find the first photo album filled with my childhood, the one with the drawing of the mid-60s mod girl with the long auburn bouffant hair high at the crown that falls into a gently swooping curve just below her shoulders and the big eyes with sweeping lashes and the hot pink paisley A-line mini-dress with the banded empire waist and the knee-high, high-heeled boots. My mother gave it to me some months after Christmas because, in her diligent way of buying gifts throughout the year to be ready for celebrations, she’d put it away and forgotten about it, or had forgotten where she’d hidden it in a bid to keep me and my brother from being able to find the closeted gifts we would carefully unwrap and rewrap before she got from work or before she and dad got home from date nights.
When she did find it, she presented it to me, unwrapped, on a sunny day out on the front sidewalk as we got ready to drive the mica-beige station wagon to our new house. That’s one sure way to find lost treasures: wait until moving day.
She didn’t often misplace treasures; this was a rarity. I still can see her sheepish smile as she handed the unwrapped album to me. A gift given out of season.
Its pictures were three to a page, vertically. When I’d stuffed it full, the center photo in the first page was a cut-to-fit Polaroid of my brother and me in our bathing suits washing our grandmother's car.
You wouldn't think with this vivid memory I'd want the album or its contents, but it seems that I do, still. Maybe only because I’ve misplaced it.
What is it about memories that we think aren't good enough, that we think we have to have the tangible object to provide supporting documentation to fill in for the elusiveness of memories.
I fear that without the photo I might forget the little details, as if I need the photo to remember the smell of the water as it washed away the hot dust that clung to the golden-brown panels of the boat-of-a-car grandma drove around town to the bank, The Mercantile, and the Albertson’s, and up onto the interstate that carved its way in tandem with the railroad tracks between the city and my mother’s family’s small town sprung from the rocky mountainside, and carried her safely to her teaching job in New Mexico every August and back again when the earth tilted its forehead toward the sun and my brother and I started dreaming of summer vacations where time moved more slowly. It did; my mother swore to it.
As if forgetting the details means I’ll too soon forget the larger scenes of summer, childhood pursuits, the family members now gone, buried in small boxes that perch under the dust on cemetery markers when no rain has come, or atop shelves in empty houses, gathering dust to dust, ashes to ashes, until sunlight picks up a glint from the lake’s surface and sends its spear into the window and, in the stillness, a spirit blows across a cedarwood box, sending dust motes high to dance like glitter.