Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been 64 days since the presidential election of 2016. The transition from an inclusive, thoughtful and decent president to his opposite is difficult to watch, but I continue to hold onto hope. This is vital now. It is important to reach out to those who feel lost and are vulnerable, to say, in any way you can, I am here and I see you. It is hard sometimes to see you and so I want to say that, I want to say that for me it is hard sometimes to see you but I continue to try. I am with you and I am here for you. I want to throw it back to my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York. I want to throw it back to the how little I saw while looking in my youth. The rust of the cars. The bald tires. The frayed flags. Here is my dog again in a photograph I had forgotten. Here is Sasha. And then here is Puddin looking for my mother to come home from work. Here they are waiting in love. I am conflating the dogs of my youth without trying. My wife quotes to me, “old men miss many dogs” and it nestles in my heart with its truthfulness. This is what old men do, and this is what old women do. They miss many dogs. The dogs themselves, each in their own way, stopping time like a photograph- sectioning off moments of our lives. How did I fail to see the struggle in my own home against the economic weight of life, of the car salesman’s adding and subtracting on scratch paper against the bills that would come and continue to come. Electric. Mortgage. Car. Clothes. And those unexpected bills, the hockey stick slash to the skin that colored the snow red and my subsequent need for stitches. I search through the photographs and look beyond the frames for a clue, but find none and realize the luck of a good childhood. That the without was never seen just the with, here is my home with my dog on the green of my grass. Here is my mother and here is my father. My brothers are building fires on the train tracks. My sister is underage drinking in a bar. Here is my dog bending in play then standing straight, tail wagging at her good fortune. Here is the car my brother is sanding the rust off of to prime so that he can make it new. I see it again in my old age, the way I saw it in my youth. The everything that there was and the everything there could be, never seeing the what there wasn't or couldn't be. My dog is waiting for me to come home from school, to put down the books that my father covered with brown grocery bags, and play, while my mother simmers in the red sauce on the stove, while my brother sands the rust, while my sister plays a record, while my brothers sneak cigarettes, while my father, at work waits to sell a car so everything that is imperfectly perfect can continue.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me circa 1984. The milk-fat of my baby years has disappeared in games of street hockey, bicycle riding, and general mischievousness. I am lengthening into awkwardness but haven’t noticed that about myself yet. Instead, I am sure of myself. Confident in the newfound freedom that library books secretly impart. Certain with the insights gleaned from careful observations of both the successes and failures of my brothers and my sister. I am a summer tan and beat sneakers and when I come to this photograph again and see myself, it is as though I am seeing myself for the first time. Joyce wrote "we walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves." This is what this photograph does for me. I see myself both stretching backwards and forwards in time. What is there to say about this photograph? There is nothing to say about this photograph. I am my mother and my father. I am my grandmother. I am my brothers and my sister. I am borrowed library books. I am my best friends. I am the backyard parties of my parents. The cigarette smoke and stories. I am the past and the future without knowing it. I am the precious moment between. Between youth and adult. Between then and now. Between confidence and doubt. Between new and rust. Between here and gone. In a click of a Kodak camera and the advance advance of the film I am stopped. This is what there is to say about this photograph. I am with my friend Doug. We have borrowed his mother’s car. We are parked near the Niagara River. I take a short path to a rock that I can jump off of and into a current that will pull me swiftly towards the falls. I am the cold water and the pulling of the current. I am summer and sunshine. I am the fish and the seagulls. I am the rocks that have traveled from Lake Superior to here which tumble on the river bed below and then drop from the height on their way to Lake Ontario. I am the river bank and the cool air. I am all of this and have no understanding that in some distant place I will forget this sometimes. You do. You forget that it is all here for you sometimes. You forget that the ordinary is extraordinary and you forget that it all disappears, or maybe you try not to remember that it does. It comes back to you though, in bits and pieces. In the way a song starts. In the way a river runs. In the way the light rises and then slips away. In a letter, or text. or post. In a jog of memory that the laugh of the person you love most brings back to you, and in a photograph of the you you were and the you you are and continue to be.
Hashtag throwback Thursday to the Buffalo, New York of my youth. The light in every captured moment in the square of a photograph is something to be celebrated. I pulled out the shoebox of old photographs this morning. The ones that remind me of the long story of my life and contain the ordinary moments that I thought I had forgotten or maybe misremembered. This is the significance of the shoebox of old photographs. This is the significance of the family albums. It brings you back to yourself. It brings the people and moments that are gone back to you. Here is one that stopped me. It is a photograph of me with my mother, we are in Canada at the cottage my parents rented every year in the summer. We are in Lake Erie and it is a plate of glass. My brother is in the photograph too, and though you can’t see him, my father is in the photograph because he is the one who captured this moment. What was it that made him get off the blanket and pick up his camera? It was my mother. The way she loved the water and the beach. The way she loved the way it made us smile. We were fish, my brothers, my sister, and me, and my mother loved that, she could sit on the blanket with a book, or look out at us, or look out at the lake and remember herself. Every summer we went to the lake and we swam and we ate peaches and we fell asleep in the sun, and my mother made a tent out of towels over us so that we wouldn't burn. There are so few photographs of my mother at the cottage. But here she is again. She is standing in the water and I am looking up at her. I am forever frozen looking up to her. She is in the water. She is in the sky. She is blurred just a bit, but there she is again. She is Lake Erie and she is the light that my father saw and stopped what he was doing to stop her there. To hold her in that light with the knowledge that she would never disappear.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. When I last visited Buffalo I came across some old notes in a box in my father’s basement. Old handwritten grade school notes that were surely passed to me through intermediaries in a snowy parking lot at recess or stealthily, from hand to hand, while a teacher wrote in loops on a chalkboard, until it reached me. That former me, the eight-year-old me in a navy shirt and navy pants. My hair blonde and new. I was full of love and curiosity and imagination. I was Wayne Gretzky and Gilbert Perreault. While my brothers poured gasoline on Big Wheels on the train tracks by my grandmother’s house, I read old books from the library and leafed through the old photographs of my parents. Of that time before me. There they were strong in the sunlight of the Alleghany Mountains. I am getting ahead of myself, I should slow down so as not to forget any of it. A statue of the Virgin Mary stood in a corner of our classroom with her palms outturned in mute appeal. The note folded and then folded again and then passed to me and unfolded and saved and forgotten until now. It occurs to me, all these years later, in light of Paris and San Bernardino, in light of cancer, and old age, how quickly we are here and then gone. How we try and try to hold on to the moments which keep slipping away. The edges of those memories blurring like old photographs. We live and then we disappear, we come from somewhere and then we go somewhere. In that parking lot youth of our hockey games, our sticks scraped in chops along the snow, our yells and shouts echoed off of the red wall of the school and faded as we rushed back and forth beneath a gray sky that to us was golden. The school itself, where our brothers and sisters went, and where our parents went, is closed for good now. What was the first to go? The hardware store? The bakery? The grocery store? Which building was the first to be boarded up? In those moments, the note, that had been passed to me, carried with it a monumental significance. It carried with it, not only the love of the girl who lived on Roebling Avenue, but of her existence and in turn mine too. I kept them all in a shoebox and hid them from my brothers who surely would have used them to burn bonfires on the tracks against the snow that fell and would continue to fall. I stowed them away, carefully, and then forgot about them. And then the children of that time scattered to New York, and Charlotte, and Dallas. They are in New Orleans, and Boulder, and Seattle. They are holding the hands of their mother in a hospital. They are visiting with their father in a room in Buffalo on an unseasonably warm and bright day before a holiday. In the photographs in our family albums, with notes and dates written by my mother on the back, I find my brothers again. I find my sister again. There they are as they used to be, and I can smell the gasoline on them. There is the school with the Fallout Shelter sign above the door that recessed back into the building, a perfect spot where my brothers bent to kiss the girls of their youth. Where they passed bottles of Genesee Cream Ale stolen from the refrigerators of their friends fathers, and here I am holding a cup of pop in the sunlight, and here again in the folded note of a girl whose eyes shone like wet stones. In the sweetness of a note I am reminded again of myself and that time. Of skating parties and holding the sweaty hand of a girl who wrote a note and passed it to that former me. I am reminded of that period where everything was opening and nothing was closing. Before I realized that after everything is gone, the photographs remain, the writing remains, the words remain and with them, in some small way, we remain.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. This past weekend driving through my neighborhood I saw three little girls chasing each other with spray bottles on a square of green in their front lawn, squirting each other with water and laughing in the sun. Is this what old age is? The noticing of the tiniest of moments that surround you and then send you hurtling backwards in time and space. Here is a photograph of me and my sister. It is summer on the east side of Buffalo, New York. We are at our grandmother’s house on Dorris. Everything is overgrown and there is the roaring quiet of the heat. My sister is ten years older than me. This is before we became aware of ourselves. This is before the world set its fangs in us. Before disappointments and heartache and death would take away the people who loved us most. I was reminded of this photograph by the three little girls playing on a lawn a thousand miles and many years away from the time it was taken. My sister has children older than we were then. They are making lives of their own now with their own memories of my sister. Her oldest might remember our grandmother. There is a photograph of her with my mother, my grandmother, and my sister that is framed in my sister’s house. But this. She has never seen this photograph. She has never seen her mother in this moment. When my sister was buoyant and unbothered and sunny. This is not to say that she isn’t still all of these things, she is, but as you all know life sometimes wipes away the idealism of youth and replaces it with a pragmatism that in comparison might seem dull. This is what I want to say to my nieces and nephew. This is what I want to say to you. That in our youth we were thirsty for the spectacle of it all. For the smell of the earth after a rain, for the way the winter succumbed to a soggy April which turned chartreuse then filled in and became the plump and overgrown summer. We shouted at the awe of the drawn world. We raced through the sheets flapping on the line. We drew white lines on the pavement with rocks. We filled our bellies with the water from the garden hose. You can see the girl stopped in this photograph in my sisters eyes now if you look close enough. If you pay attention and listen you can see the airy girl in the photograph rising up, you can see that she never disappeared, but I want to add something to the photograph. I want to add to it the moment that wasn’t captured. The moment so obvious it didn’t need to be captured. The moment just before we went outside in anticipation of the beautiful mysteries that the world had in store for us, before we knew what all of those mysteries might be, and drank it in.