Monday, September 12, 2011

Instant Memories: Dad's Polaroid

Like many men and women who came of age during World War II, Dad was fascinated by innovations and inventions. Our family was among the first to have a television and among the first to switch to color television when it became available. Dad loved his TV for the next sixty years, finally abandoning it as a pastime when the programming became too risqué for his taste and too repetitive.

Mom never spent as much time watching television. Now, after Alzheimer’s, she watches Turner Classic Movies hour after hour. She even calls for help when she touches the wrong button on the remote and cannot see her shows. TV has become her entertainment and stimulus package.

Before Alzheimer’s, Mother was too busy to watch TV. She had a house to manage, three meals a day to prepare, civic and fraternal obligations, and creative projects, including photo albums and later, scrapbooks. She had an artistic eye, developing photo pages that commemorated entire events with just a few snapshots.

Most of those photos were taken by Dad, and one of his old Polaroids became a Christmas gift from him to Mother, my younger sister, and me. This is another of the three gifts I can remember Dad actually taking charge of and giving. I’m looking at it now.

I see Mother at the wheel of a classic Chris-Craft boat. She’s wearing a swimsuit and a Captain’s hat with bill. I am in the front seat, my sister in the back, both of us wearing life jackets. Mother looks at me, smiling. My sister smiles at Mother, and I squint at Dad, behind the camera, the sun high above and behind him.

The photo is black and white, but I see color: warm wood varnished to a rich, deep shine rides the dark water. Mother, behind the black steering wheel, wears a white suit with a dark blue ruffle, a matching white cap with black bill. The orange life jackets protecting the children are bright against the white leather seats.

That moment captured for all eternity is not a special one. We went to the lake most weekends. We swam off the dock and learned to ski in deep water. We felt the wind blast our hair as Dad picked up speed, and we watched him watch the water closely for floating hazards and oncoming boaters.

The photo suggests that we had a good time at the lake, in the boat, together. Mother doesn’t even seem to know she’s being photographed, but she’s smiling in the moment--at me. More important, Dad treasured this simple moment of happiness in the sun. He made a gift of it, blowing up the snapshot to an 8 x 10, making three copies, and having each framed. When Mother asked him why, he said the photo was one of his favorites, that he liked the way she looked, the way we looked together.

Mother sees it now and asks when it was taken, where it was taken, and by whom. She touches the images and smiles again. Alzheimer’s has not stolen all of her past yet. She still smiles.