Expressway: Photographs provide magic moments preserved in time
They are everywhere.
In wallets, across mantels, on bookshelves and dressers and desks. Some walls of a house might even be decorated with them. I speak of pictures -- those chosen moments of time caught by a camera. Like a kindly siren, each photo sings its own sweet song, and we are lured, now and again, down those roads that lead to the past.
One hangs in my bedroom. Within its dusty frame, two young newlyweds are about to kiss. Hair still covers the groom's head and it is all black. The bride's hair will never again be so blond or so long. Eyes closed, hands joined, they stand alone on the dance floor of the Argyle Manor in West Babylon. Until the first kid came along, it seemed -- right then, with that bulb flashing -- I could never be happier.
Another photo lies between the plastic-sheeted pages of a family album. The black-and-white image shows an old man sitting at a long table filled with children. Like them, he is wearing a conical party hat and smiling. Unlike them, there are no teeth in his mouth. This is my grandfather, a great guy who taught me to love the Yankees, Italian opera and those fat purple figs that grew on a tree in his backyard. It is 1957 and to his immediate right, a crown-sporting, double-chinned boy has just blown out all the candles on a white sheet cake. Smoke hangs like gray mist above it. The occasion is my ninth birthday, which is being celebrated at Aunt Jean's summer home in Smithtown. A month later, Pop would be gone and I would feel, for the very first time, the deep ache of loss. It's nice, occasionally, to visit with this last-ever picture of him. Some days, I can even hear his voice.
Up in my attic, among a loose collection that fills an entire shoebox, there is a snapshot of the Long Island Expressway. Taken through the windshield of a Dodge van just after sunrise on the last Sunday in June of '68, it looks out to a long straight stretch of open road. For as far as the eye can see, there is nothing. Only empty highway, blue sky and two cottony clouds. I am traveling with an old friend and his brother. It is Day One of our long-planned trip across America. Over the next seven weeks, we will shoot rolls and rolls of film. This particular shot, however, is my favorite. It has always seemed a special secret doorway, one through which I finally stepped out into the world and found . . . me.
That's the thing about pictures. They weave substance into the fabric of memory. Children opening gifts on Christmas Eve, a spider-web glistening with morning dew, my daughter's blurred left foot kicking the ball in some long-ago soccer game, me feeding goats at the Holtsville Park zoo, our dog as a pup, asleep on the couch -- it's all still there, fresh and alive. Happening once more in the same frozen way.
While certainly not as dramatic or exciting as a time machine, pictures are every bit as magical. They let us go back to see again the ever-fading details of our lives.