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Preserving the past — bridging the future

By Debbie Leffler • Updated Jun 29, 2018 at 9:00 AM

My sister is downsizing to a smaller house. That’s not what this column is about, but it is what precipitated it.

My sister was clearing out her basement in anticipation of her move and she called to ask me if it was OK if she got rid of our father’s slides. There were at least 10 trays of them and she had transferred all of them to her computer so if I didn’t want the original slides she was going to trash them because she didn’t have room for them in her new house.

“I saved them all on an external hard drive and gave it to you, so you have them,” she told me.

“I’m not sure what I did with the hard drive. What did it look like?” I asked her.

She texted me a picture of the hard drive, followed by an annoyed email. The project had taken her years to complete — transferring those slides to the computer — and how could I not know where it was?

Truth be told, I did not. The box with the hard drive looked familiar, though, and I did find it. I remembered setting it aside when she gave it to me. She thought it was a wonderful gift for me, to be in possession of all of those slides — our past contained in a box.

She was right, but I wasn’t ready to look at it yet.

Both of our parents have passed away. Although my sister still lives in the East, I have lived in Ohio for many years and never looked back.

Today I did. I connected that external hard drive to my computer and looked at the old slides for the first time in many years. I am still teary-eyed.

I saw how beautiful our mother was. She and I, as a baby, in New York City. She, pushing me in a swing at a city playground. She and I, in the 1950s, in our small apartment.

I looked like any baby, but my mother was gorgeous. My father must have thought so, too, the way he took those pictures of her.

My father had an eye for beauty. When you look at pictures, you see not only the subject of those pictures, but it gives you a view of the person who took the pictures as well. My father took beautiful pictures of snow, of sunsets, of flowers, of a fruit stand in Manhattan, of the ocean — well, my mother in her bathing suit at the ocean. He must have been madly in love with her.

I saw myself, mostly with a far-off look — what was I thinking of? I saw myself playing dress-up at home, in school plays, sitting on Santa’s lap. I saw the old kitchen sink with my mother and her friends cleaning up after a party.

I saw my great-grandmother holding my little sister, a baby. I saw my little brother as a baby. I saw myself as I once was, my family as we once were.

I stopped looking at the slides somewhere in the early 1960s. I will go back to them and look at the rest — a little afraid to see my teenage years, though.

I saw my little sister and I standing in the driveway of our old house, dressed up, posing for my father’s picture. I was the older one. I was supposed to be her teacher, her protector, but I moved away, of no more use to her than an occasional phone call or twice-yearly visit.

This is a chasm I would like to bridge now, if it’s not too late. I’m so sorry, Carol, for not being there for you. I’m sorry I didn’t know where the external hard drive was, but I found it and today I took a look at our past. Thank you for preserving it.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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