August 04, 2009

An Unconventional Memory Lane

This morning as I left for work, I detoured to the trash enclosure to toss a bag in the dumpster on the way to my car.

Because I'm always running late, I've got this chore down to a science and it's a tribute to economy of motion: Flip gate latch, open gate, three brisk steps in, sweep lid up with one hand, fling bag in with other hand as turning around, three brisk steps back out, close gate and dash.

This morning, however, I was brought up short as I was taking those steps back out. There, on the cinder block retaining wall in front of the recycling bins, was an old metal box, open, full to bursting with photographic slides. The old-fashioned kind that almost no one gets anymore, since you need a slide projector and screen to view them.

I could see handwriting on the crisp white cardboard of some of them, so I lifted a few out, one by one, and held them up to the morning sun. Roses, a spring garden in bloom, a pregnant woman in 70s-style clothes grinning at the camera, the view from the top of a nameless tram.

Even though I really needed to get going, I stood, transfixed. Here was a box of someone's memories, left next to -- but not in -- the trash. As though whoever had put them there knew they needed to go, but couldn't bear to actually be the one to throw them away.

Questions tumbled in my head. Who did they belong to? Why had they been abandoned? Had the person who took them, collected them and arranged them so carefully over so many years died? Was there no one in the family who would have wanted this treasure trove of history? Did it upset the person who left the box behind to have to do it?

I stood there and contemplated closing the box up tight against its fate, tucking it under my arm and taking it with me. But I don't have a projector. I don't have a screen. I don't have a clue whose memories were sitting there in that unusual box, one step away from the landfill.

It saddened me to put the slides back, shut the lid, and walk away.

But most days it seems that I hardly have room for my own memories. How could I try to take on those of a stranger?