Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Camera, Memory Keeper, Time Machine

Back in 1994, sizing up the success of yet another visit to the photo studio, I said, "Well, it looks like Ben could have used a hair cut and Sam seems a little worried." Without skipping a beat, Little Ben spoke up (in reference to the camera):

"Sam thinks it's a big gun!"

Maybe he meant to say, "a time machine."

Last month on my book blog, I was looking at The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The title derives from a scene early in the novel when David, the memory keeper, says to his wife Norah:

"But you're so sad . . . don't be sad. I didn't forget, Norah. Not our anniversary, not our daughter. Not anything."

"Oh, David," she said. "I left your present in the car," She thought of the camera, its precise dials and levers. The Memory Keeper, it said on the box, in white italic letters; this, she realized was why she'd bought it -- so he'd capture every moment, so he'd never forget.
(88)

When I read those words, I was reminded of a Newsweek essay by Anna Quindlen -- entitled "The Time Machine" -- that she wrote around Christmastime 2006. She is reminiscing about various childhood presents -- in particular an enormous, longed - for dollhouse -- and how the memory of what those toys signified at the time can linger for years after the objects themselves have been broken or lost or given away.

Then she shoots ahead to the more recent past of her own children opening their surprises; and, even more recently, to the memory of herself re-watching their holiday videos and witnessing a moment that she did not even realize she had captured on film at the time. She says, "It was only recently, many years after the event, that I discovered that little boy giving me the time- machine tip, a ghost of Christmas past."

On the tape, her son "looks into the lens and says as though he is imparting a great secret, 'Do you know what a camera is? It's a time machine.'" She wonders what stray distraction prevented her from catching that remark the first time around, but never mind! "Thank God the VCR offered me a second chance."

In this essay, Quindlen also takes issue with that annoying bit of advice: "Don't sweat the small stuff, and its all small stuff." I couldn't agree more when she argues, "That's absurd. Lots of small stuff is really big. . . . The essence of the season lies in figuring out what small stuff is passing minutiae and what is enduring memory. Come to think of it, that may well be the essence of everything" -- a conclusion that is perfectly in keeping with a blog about the Quotidian!

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