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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Photographic Memory

A Two-Year-Old's “Photographic Memory”: Trip to Joliet, Summer of 1945

In truth, this is the story of a photograph, three photographs. These three photographs. That is I in the center, my mom on the left, her mom on the right. It's the photograph of me that makes me remember the trip
—and not just because I am so cute!

We were in Chicago's Union Station. (That detail I came to realize for all the times I passed through the station during my college years.) We were there because we had traveled together by train from St. Paul's Union Station. Here in Chicago we had to separate. My mom and I had to take a train out to Joliet, Illinois where my other grandmother, grandma Gruber, lived. She had not met me, having moved to Joliet to marry Charlie Gruber after my grandfather Peter Komives had died. My grandmother Pratt would take a different train to southern Illinois where she had Foster relatives. My Mom and I would spend a few days in Joliet before my Dad showed up for the weekend. All I remember of the trip back to St. Paul with him was our stop in Chicago when we visited one of my Dad's Hungarian uncles, Eugene, at his bar. I remember this because he served us liver dumpling soup. Already I knew I did not like liver, but I loved the soup—an early lesson in the danger of closing off life with over generalizations.

OK, the photograph. My mom, my grandmother and I had time to kill in Union Station before the first of our trains left. They decided to have some fun by using the photo booth in the station. These were fascinating machines that stood seemingly in every rail and bus station. I remember how much fun Mom and Grandma seemed to have with this little adventure. When one of them sat down for the first picture the seat in the booth was way too high. It could be lowered by spinning it one direction and raised by spinning it in the other. Here is the key to my memory: As my mom spun the seat down she said, “We have to remember to raise the seat again when we take Bobby's picture.”

I think the first picture was of Mom. We waited for it to develop and appear outside on the side of the booth. After that photo enjoyed and approved--my grandmother sat down for her picture. She looks pretty serious, but I remember them both being sillier than I had seen before--girl-like.

After the booth spit out from its magic darkroom the strip of multiple copies of my grandmother's photo, it was my turn. I remembered quite clearly that they were supposed to spin the seat back up for me. They did not. Even with my mom and my grandmother I was too shy to tell them they were making a mistake. When the strip of my photo appeared at the side of the booth my mom said, “Oh, we forgot to raise the seat.” Why do I remember this? I was ashamed--embarrassed that I did not have the courage to tell Mom that she was making a mistake. And then, I was unable to find words to say, “I should have told you.” Who was I to warn my mom she was about to make a mistake or, after, that I could have prevented it?

This act of spontaneous fun was luxury to Mom and Grandma. Hey, despite my falling off the bottom of the photo, I'm pretty cute. I remember no discussion of of spinning the seat up to take another. That is good. If they had spun up the seat and sat me down for another photo, that expense, added to what was already a splurge, would probably have made me feel more embarrassed for my tongue-tied shyness than I was--and still am.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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