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Top Secret Navy Base, Germany, in the Day Room, 1957
Have you sorted through your bill-fold lately, seeing what is forgotten under some of those flaps stuffed with business cards and notes and old phone numbers? When I was going through mine the other day, I found a folded $10.00 bill I had forgotten, emergency money 'just in case' and a piece of pocket fuzz stuck to it. I tossed a dozen old cards away before I found my old Portland Police Detective ID card with my photo on it. It was taken in 1967 when I was promoted from Patrolman up to the “dicks.” It was a photo of a 31-year-old man, a kid really, and I found myself wondering...where did the guy in the photo go? I looked in the mirror over my desk. I didn't see the guy in the picture. It was a different fella looking back at me. An old guy with gray hair and glasses...and wrinkles.
It prompted me to blow the dust off the old photo album on the top closet shelf. Maybe I could find myself there. More old pictures. Me when I was a 20-year-old kid in the US Navy graduating from Communication Technicians school in Imperial Beach California. A photo of me a year later lounging in the day room after a hard days work on Top Secret Navy projects at our “classified” base in Germany on the coast of the cold Baltic Sea. I looked hard at the young man in the photo, the guy with brown tousled hair and a half smile? Where was he now, where did he go?
I found other pictures in the album too, pictures of my mom and her sisters, all dead now. I stared at the photographs and thought about the memories. Memories of mom taking me fishing. Mom was a dyed-in-the-wool 'fisher person.' I hated fishing but was too young to defend myself. She dragged me off fishing anyway. I have this picture of mom in my mind from years ago, standing in the shallows of the Hood River in hip boots, a gaff hook in her hands threatening the next big Salmon coming near in their spawning run. The memories of her made me smile. I don't fish to this day and don't eat fish if I can avoid it. Don't like being on the water either. Scares me. Funny how a guy that doesn't like the water joined the Navy.
I looked at pictures of Grandma. I remember her holding me in her arms and rocking me in that squeaky old rocking chair. Grandma was a tough lady. She helped Grandpa build a sod house in N. Dakota. She swept the hard dirt floor with a home made broom. They moved from N. Dakota to Denton Montana looking for milder winters. Grandpa ran off about that time and Grandma opened up a boarding house to make ends meet. She wound up in jail there in Denton. We never did know why. Whispers were that she used the boarding house to entertain. I smiled looking at the old lady that loved me. Where did she go, leaving only memories?
Pictures capture a mere second in time, an eye blink...and after that it moves on one minute into the next, one hour into the next, one day into the next. It moves on and nothing after the blink is ever the same. The person in the photograph was only that person for a millisecond. I realized that even the best detectives in the world could not find the young sailor I saw or the young cop in the picture. Oh, I was still here. The me inside of me, was still here but the photographs were of someone no longer existing. They were only here for an instant. They are gone, leaving only memories of that time.
Looking in the mirror day after day, shaving and combing my hair, I can't see the changes, because they seem to happen so slowly. I didn't realize I was aging until the 20 somethings at the check out stand began asking me if I wanted my Senior citizen discount. Did I look old to others?
I had lunch with my two sisters awhile back. They are both younger than I but still in their 70's. We don't see enough of each other as one sister lives in another state and the other lives in “Dingweed” Oregon. They brought old family photos, pictures of us when we were in high school. We all looked at the color prints, faded like old color pictures get, and stared at each other. Where were theses kids? These youngsters only existed for that split second and then they slowly became “us,” as we are now, three gray haired oldsters. We looked at each other realizing what we had become. We hugged each other, still family but different.
I stuck the old Detective photo ID card back in my wallet and wondered if there were any investigators that could help me find the 31-year-old guy again. Maybe put out an APB, send some teletypes, hire the A Team from TV. Maybe they could put a plan together to find the old me. Should I look in the yellow pages for a 'time' detective? Sometimes I hear the old Jim Croce song in my head, “Photographs and Memories.” I love that song. Now Croce is just a memory, lost in a plane crash.
I know that in just a few blinks of the eye I too could be gone. Perhaps then, someone that loved me will clean out my billfold and see the old ID card and wonder...
Where did he go?
By Don DuPay
ABSOLUTELY NO PORTION OF THIS PERSONAL ESSAY MAY BE REPRODUCED OR DISSEMINATED WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR, DONALD LEE DUPAY, UNDER PENALTY OF COPYRIGHT LAWS!!