Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It is a very old vinyl bag in caramel brown with about the same capacity as a kid's backpack. It's dusty and there is nothing ergonomic about the strap. I didn't know that it existed or that I would be its new owner until after it all happened.

We have visited D's grandmother twice in the past month. We went last month in a harried trip for grandpa's funeral and this time for a celebration of grandma's hard won achievement -- becoming a Bat Mitzvah in her mid-80s. Since most of the family was there, and those who were not were represented by their proxies, many of grandpa's personal things were distributed.

This was a strange new experience for me, having never met my maternal grandparents who died when my mother was a teenager (and for whom Eva is named, actually) and being an ocean and a half away from my paternal grandparents when they died (I was a small child anyway when my paternal grandfather passed away). Even if I had been there, I am fairly certain that the scene would have unfolded very differently. I imagine that there would have been small precious things (but, what?) unwrapped from small pouches or pieces of fabric or very thin paper. It would have taken place in dimly-lit room. The lighting was never very good in their apartment. I can't help but think that objects would have been pressed deliberately into palms following the unspoken but unwavering boundaries of obligation and tradition. It is all a mystery to me, I'm afraid. My people don't really talk openly about such things. But, I know this much; there would have been no display and no choices in the matter.

They were from another time and place; time was not as generous in allowing people to accumulate their treasures and people simply didn't have very much that was tangible. I never could understand how my grandparents had so many kids in that apartment. I will have to ask my father about that.

In the apartment D's grandparents shared for a quarter century, neither one of us was entirely comfortable with a brightly-lit dining room table and people handling and claiming his things. But this family is more fortunate and there was more than enough to go around. Here there were no obligations and little hierarchy. People could just take what appealed to them, what they felt connected to. In the end, when the most favored of the watches and cufflinks (Grandpa's whole career aside from WWII was about timepieces and jewelry) were claimed, it was the box that held them that I received. And that felt right to me.

Later that morning, I think the luncheon at temple the day before caught up to me and I just wanted to get home. Under the circumstances, there were no goodbyes, let alone time for things to be pressed into palms. Instead, I ended up acting out one of those drunken puking out the car scenes, something I have never done before. So, yeah, I'm all for new experiences. D drove and I tried to be still until, strangely, the whole episode just passed and I felt fine. I think it was then that D told me about the bag.

I didn't want to open the bag right away. I knew it was a camera bag, but until I dragged the zipper's pull from one side to the other, it could have been anything -- a Hasselblad [swoon], a Leica [gasp], a Brownie [a solid nod], anything. Inside were two 35 mm cameras  (a Konica and a Minolta) and a third lens -- a telephoto zoom. But what surprised me was that Grandpa had a teleconverter (used to multiply the focal length of a lens, thereby simulating a longer telephoto) and a set of close-up lenses, basically convex glass filters that allow you to focus in closer than you could otherwise, a cheap alternative to a true macro lens and well before such business could be accomplished simply by turning a dial.

I have owned both of those items, but what caught my eye was the set of close-up filters. Just two nights before, I had used one to take this photo of the engraved plate on grandpa's box before I had opened  the bag. The Grandpa I knew was a devoted painter. Now I see that at least for a time, he used more than brushes to create. I'll have to dig some film out of the fridge.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure that he would be pleased to know that his cameras found their way to you.