Yesterday I had lunch with my parents. Afterwards, and over a cup of tea (we also had a cup of tea before lunch… and one during lunch… and another one before I left), my mum pulled out some old family photo albums. Mostly, they were pictures from the 1950’s, when my folks were the same age that my children are today.
The air around the photo albums was heavy with memory. Not only memories but actual slices of hope, promise, and yearning. In some cases it was as if the images themselves participated in the dialogue, shared their thoughts about the life they led between then and now, reached out and touched us….
FAVORITE: My favorites were this image – above – captured when I was three, and then one with my brother, Geoff, taken at the same time.
We were in all likelihood on the hills behind my hometown of Folkestone, or maybe up on the cliffs at Dover, around eight miles down the coast.
CONVERSATION THROUGH TIME: I’m wondering what three-year-old Derek is speaking to me, out through the photograph and into the sands of time? It looks to me as if I had heard something – maybe a strand of dialogue – and I turned around to catch the drift of the conversation.
And there was my dad, chewing at the end of a long piece of grass, leaning on one hand while balancing his camera in the other. And there was I, thinking about something I wouldn’t know how to write down in words for another 53 years.
“Hello, 56-year-old me,” he says, clearly and with a child-like and pointedly English lilt; “Remember how the breeze blows in off the English Channel, and we’d sit here and count the ships passing through? Well today (1959) we counted 43 that we could easily see. Five of them are ferries on the way between Folkestone and France.”
He was right. The Straights of Dover (or the Pas-de-Calais as the French call it) are only 22 miles wide at that point. The place was packed with shipping and we could see all the way to France, sometimes picking out buildings in the town of Calais.
“And Geoff was going on again about how one day he’s going to be on one of those boats; only it isn’t going to stop when he gets to France. He said he wants to see the whole wide world….”
HOW DID WE DO? “And what are you going to do when Geoff is off finding the whole wide world, and finding himself in the process,” I ask?
Three-year-old Me pauses, looks out into the whole wide world, and turns back. “I guess I’ll tag along and see that he doesn’t get into too much trouble. I’ll probably have to hold one end of his kite for him while he runs down the hill with his end of the string. Then he’ll yell, ‘LET GO!’ only I won’t know when.”
Three-year-old Me looks out again, back into 2012 and through the sands of time. Now we’re making eye contact and I’m thinking about his brother – my brother, off again and into another new adventure. And I’m not sure yet that it’s OK that I let go of my end of the string and watch the kite sail quietly off into the heavens….
And Three-year-old Me fixes me with those eyes.
“So how did we do? Really. How did we do?”