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Sunday Journal: Aged man finds unknown snapshot from his youth in junk shop

I never got past the first table of knickknacks. I rummaged through the random treasures, and a small sepia photograph stopped me cold. I picked it up to examine it, and the world around me faded. I recognized that broad promenade under the big leafy trees. I recognized, too, the man and boy, backs to the camera, who were walking along the path hand in hand. The man dressed in a proper suit with a fedora was my father and the little boy, wearing short pants and his Sunday jacket, was me.

Looking back in time I could remember just how my father looked on those Sunday walks, but trying to imagine what he might say to the small boy beside him, I couldn't remember his voice or anything he had ever said. My mother had told me that he was a very quiet man. I remembered, though, that this was his favorite walk in San Francisco Golden Gate Park when I was with him. The promenade circled the bandstand and the audience seating area. We would walk around it twice then sit right in the middle of all those empty chairs, and we were the first ones there, as usual. Even the musicians were just drifting in, warming up, tuning their instruments. We stayed for the entire performance, and afterward he would take me to the Japanese Tea Garden for tea and cookies.

Who took this photograph and why? How did it find its way here to this obscure Japanese junk shop in this tiny town? Was I destined to find it? I was a little light-headed, so I sat on a nearby chair and continued to stare at the snapshot.

"You like the little picture?" a voice suddenly asked. "You may have it for free, no charge."

I looked into the smiling, wizened face of an elderly Japanese man, his eyes radiating friendliness.

"Thank you, um, Mr. Kimura is it?"

"Yes, I am Mr. Kimura. I own the store. You keep the picture. Look around. Take your time."

"Yes, thank you. I will."

But once again memories flooded back. Sunday walks to Stow Lake with my father, me carrying the beautiful little boat he had given me; Fleishhacker diving pool where he would change from his proper Sunday suit into a bathing suit with me sitting on a nearby bench. I would then watch him do high dives from the top platform. It must have been 40 feet high. To me it was the Empire State Building and he a super human of unimaginable courage. On other days, we sometimes walked through the zoo looking at wild animals, huge wild creatures.

Did he ever talk to me? He must have. But I couldn't remember his voice. I'm 80 years old, yet that photograph brought back those memories as vividly as if they had happened yesterday, not 75 years ago.

I bought a vase that I thought would go well with my painting of Japanese peasants, thanking Mr. Kimura again for the snapshot, and left. I stopped on the way home and put the top up on my convertible, as the air had turned cool. Arriving home to a cold and empty house, I immediately built a fire in the stone fireplace. I sat close, gazing into the dancing flames. I held the picture of a life long past. Traveling again to that time, I recalled that the most impressive thing about my father's appearance was his gray fedora. I could picture him perfectly standing in front of the hall mirror and with two hands adjusting the hat to just the right angle.

I remembered those Sunday walks. I could hear the crunch of gravel under our feet but I couldn't remember his voice. Before I turned 6, cancer had carried him away and I was left with a young mother, a 3-year-old sister and a 6-month-old brother.

To this day, I am still haunted by the improbability of finding my way to Mr. Kimura's Antique and Jumble Shoppe and to that small, 75-year-old sepia-colored photograph of my father holding my hand.

Robert J. Callan, 87, is a retired educator and principal of Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif.

Sunday Journal: Aged man finds unknown snapshot from his youth in junk shop 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 3:30am]
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