In preparing for my father’s recent memorial service, I sorted through fourscore and more years’ worth of family photos and six hours of home movies, unearthing Kodachrome slides that appeared to be taken yesterday and damaged but dreamlike 8 mm footage. Later, in the large church I grew up in, in a small town in Pennsylvania, my family stood, greeting friends, neighbors and parishioners. It was as if we never left 40 years ago, even if everything seemed to have shrunk a little. After the service, my brother and I took his daughters on a tour of the old Sunday School building. Little had changed since it was built in the ’50s; the steps to the second floor retained the exact same rubber tread. For just a second, as I ran down the stairwell to catch up, I was 10 again.
Between my father’s death and a recent office move, I’ve spent the last three months time traveling. It is, I have found, not unlike scuba diving: Come up too fast, and you get the bends.
My father served many churches during his life. The pastor who now lives in the last parsonage our family occupied told us our dad’s darkroom is still intact in his basement; he welcomed us to salvage it. How could this be? We thought it had been placed in storage when Marty, my dad, retired. But it’s tantamount to finding King Tut’s tomb. Still carefully covered in plastic, the photo enlarger had remained untouched for 20 years, with my dad’s scrawled instructions still taped to the wall. I find a note in black marker, in my handwriting. What year is this? 1988? I wonder if I still have time to call my girlfriend, the one who moved to Paris.
A few weeks later, I was on the campus of a Big Ten university for an academic symposium on cartooning. It was a bright, bitter fall morning, and I was hungover after a night out with fellow artists. At breakfast, the cafeteria’s speakers pumped out songs by Simple Minds and The Romantics. 1984?
Back in Durham again, I began packing in earnest for the move to the INDY‘s new office, its third in the near-decade I’ve been here. Sifting through towers of back issues beside my desk, I reduced years of work to a wafer of tearsheets, compressing the last decade of my career into a fleet flipbook. We unearthed and discarded the bones of dozens of failed and forgotten projects, bundled walls of plaques and awards in bubblewrap. Didn’t we just do this at the old blue house on Hillsborough Street?
But concurrent weekend-long remembrances of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination and the debut of Doctor Who tell me that I’ve returned to the present. “OK,” I think, surfacing slowly, “this is where I came in.”