Do memories, like snapshots, have an age? Do they grow old in that hidden place where memories go when not being remembered? And if they do, how come they don’t show their age when they are recalled? Here comes one now.
It’s Monday. I’m seven years old, walking home from school with my chums. I can’t see their faces anymore, but I know they are there and we’re all wearing our Catholic school uniforms. We are full of the joy that attends those just released from a school day. Other details: green-gold leaves on suburban oaks, mid-afternoon warmth of spring sun, the fragrance of lilacs. Now I’m walking past the telephone pole on the side of our still new-looking house. It is painted white. There is my mother. She is standing next to the Japanese red maple my father planted two days ago. She has been waiting for me. She has something to say. “I have some bad news.”
That memory remains unchanged, even after half a century. It does not age. Unlike this snapshot of my father and his father taken in 1932. The paper on which the image is printed suffers from the familiar, slow, yellow incineration of time. But what about the image itself? Its fading away from the paper is akin to a memory that can no longer be recalled. Seen from the other side, it may appear something like an unhurried prison break. When free, finally, of its bonds (both chemical and emotional), this image, like all of them, will return to that secluded place where images go when not being apparent. “In memoriam,” they used to write on tombstones, “Into Memory.”
(I.m., Michael O’Grady, born 1 July 1895, on “Revenue Row” in Westport, County Mayo; died 3 May 1965, in the V.A. Hospital, East Orange, New Jersey)