Happened across the above the other day, and was happy to discover that I’m not alone, having stored someone else’s memories for far longer than may be healthy…
When I was a student, one of the housemates, let’s call him Dave (for that is his name…), went to an auction to pick up an extra wardrobe. Unbeknown to him; you buy the wardrobe, you get the contents!
Come delivery day, and the driver is well pleased to discover we’re on the top floor. After much struggling, wardrobe is deposited in front hall. Delivery guy isn’t for taking it any further, and strops off in a haze of sweat and four-letter salutations.
Dave wanders into the kitchen and asks for a helping hand. He can’t budge the wardrobe.
He’d gone all out.
This thing was over 10′ tall and 8′ wide and made of solid oak.
Three of us couldn’t shift it (God knows how the delivery guy and his mate managed up four floors!)
That’s the point at which Dave suggested emptying it…(I know; but he was only half way through a PhD in Biomedical Science… so we gave him a break…)
By the time he returns with the key, the entire house is eagerly gathered in front of the wardrobe.
Turns out, Dave hadn’t bought a wardrobe; he’d bought a veritable time capsule. One, if the ranked furs, cocktail and flapper dresses, sequined felt hats and fedoras were anything to go by, originated in the 1930’s. (Bridget knew these things… OK?)
Having recovered from the refreshing blast of camphor, Dave revealed that a friend, who worked at a vintage shop, had agreed to take the lot. We set about decanting everything into bin bags; hardly the care deserved by these items so valued by someone for so long.
Bridget (knowing these things) took charge of the process.
The devil makes work for idle hands, however, and with so many onlookers it didn’t take long for an entire backstory for the unknown owner to develop as each item was revealed, carefully folded, and stowed in the ever increasing pile of bin bags.
The emptying was almost complete when, among the dregs of assorted scarves in the bottom drawer, appeared a pocket sized photo album.
Even Bridget, with all her care, absent-mindedly found herself about to drop the album in the bag dedicated to “unrecoverable” items…
The album held about a dozen black and white pictures, probably 4″ x 2″, carefully inserted into the holding slots.
One loose image, having run out of allotted space, hadn’t fared quite as well as the others but was preserved well enough with its companions.
And it was… GLORIOUS.
Whatever, likely half mocking, backstory had been developed during the emptying of the wardrobe, simply couldn’t match up to the actual story contained within the half dozen card pages of that album.
All of the pictures had been taken on the same day.
(Fuck, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Is that why I’ve avoided writing the real point for so long?)
The album records a riotous picnic, among what appears to be sand dunes. Or perhaps several riotous picnics, as some of the images are clearly taken on heather moorland. In these latter images, a Model T forms a welcome windbreak as hair flies, uncontrollable.
But none of these pictures shows the view. There is only one point of interest in all of them.
Nor is it the 1930s anymore; the dress style is clearly ’50s. Yet nothing from the latter era had surfaced from the inner depths of the wardrobe.
Three young women, in their mid-late 30s, likely sisters, attend the picnic(s).
Two of them take control of the camera in turn.
The off duty photographer looks so happy. Laughing, enjoying the freedom of the moment, revelling in the warmth and companionship of the day.
In every image, the third sister. She pays no heed to either of her sisters. She is lost in her own world; brushing her hair, checking her reflection in a hand mirror, neither noticing nor interacting with the camera.
She relishes the cake, yet seems completely unaware of her loving sister’s presence.
That love?; that much leaps out of every image.
The “spare picture”, creased, worn, (looked at more often than the others?); has only one sitter.
They have managed to settle her. It’s one of the beach shots. She isn’t fiddling, or distracted, or slack jawed; but looks directly into the camera, a vague, non-committed smile that excludes the eyes.
And yet; there is something there; missing in the others; a connection; an animation of the senses; a moment of genuine, honest, recognition; a vague amusement at something going on behind the camera, perhaps?
In that image; she becomes.
And because of that image, the revelation contained in the others broke me.
Who were they?
Was one of them the owner of the wardrobe?
Probably not, as they would only have been in their mid-late 60s by that time. Early 70s at a push.
So… maybe… yes.
And that made me sad.
But why would they have kept the wardrobe contents as a 1930s exhibit?
And why didn’t any of their relatives (did none of them have children?) want any of it; not even the picture book?
And that made me sad.
And that’s when I realised I’d acquired a photo album.
Full of memories for someone…
Through the years, I tried various means to trace the family in the hope of returning the images; to no avail.
In ’99 inspired by Stephen Poliakoff’s “Shooting the Past“, starring Timothy Spall, I contacted what few picture libraries I could track down.
None of them wanted them (not enough to count as a “collection”, not notable subjects); but…
Spall’s character would have got it!
Poliakoff would have got it!
Through all this, the little album accompanied us on several house moves.
Till that disastrous move; when so much, including the album of stranger’s memories was lost.
I like to think someone else found the album.
I like to think they occasionally come across it and wonder why they keep it, but can’t seem to find a reason to let it go.
And, though it’s been out of my possession for over 20 years now; the faces remain so vividly imprinted in my memory, they feel closer than family.
Even though I don’t know who they were; when I finally depart this world, there will be no-one (barring the fabled finder above) to remember them.
Do me a favour; remember their memories for me?