With middle age comes vision that combines today with memories of what is no longer present. Things now gone sometimes leave traces in one’s mind or heart, and sometimes the earlier things leave physical traces for curious observers to interpret. The three city blocks that form the commercial heart of this county seat in middle Michigan still attract some business, but nothing like the heydays that finally lost customers in the 1980s and still today. Having seen the town on and off these past 47 years, many of the earlier shops and town events still haunt my imagination: the silver and white cars parked in front of the long front of the Main Street Cafe and Pizza shop are models of the last year or two. If the cars of 1971 were parked next to these, the contrasts would be many -not just the design appearance, but the functionality and resulting performance. As for the businesses that have occupied the premises there, back in 1971 there was a D&C (dime and cent) store with a vast bulk candy counter where young spenders could order small bags of their favorites, sold by weight and paid for with a few coins. A kid could feel like a king browsing the aisles of toys, clothing, and candy with just a few dollars in hand. A few years later a similar general store (franchised far and wide) by the name of Ben Franklin (channeling the master’s habit of frugality) took over the property. During the 1980s and 1990s I was largely in other cities, but restaurant-type businesses operated there with varied lengths of success until the current restaurant took over 20 or 25 years ago.
The adjoining building next closest to the lens stands on the corner and its facade in stone bears the name of a bank that originally stood prominently there in competition with another one at the right edge of the frame but out of view. But by 1971 that corner location was occupied for a long time by a Rexall Pharmacy. The upstairs was given over to a community non-profit organization for use from the early 1980s until the late 1990s. Around 2000 the drug store changed hands to another pharmacy for a few years. After that it seems like something altogether different operated on the property until finally around 2000 or so the present owner remodeled it for maximum security needed to offer banking services.
Similar stories up and down the Main Street color the prospect of this place. But for every middle aged observer, there will be others whose memories are much, much longer. Others will have non-commercial memories, but instead hold personal memories of conversations, relationships, events, or employment (including behind the scenes anecdotes) routines and procedures, for example. Still others will be newcomers, whatever their age may be, and see only what is currently in business. Or perhaps the newcomer has an observant mind and can identify some of the tell-tale clues of building fronts to guess what sorts of retail business was there long ago. As for the generations now long gone, most of their own layers of memories have passed away with them, unless captured in a book, diary, or newspaper article, for example. Fast-forwarding the passage of time into the future 5 or 25 or 200 years would be something to try one day. By then much of the world will have changed, and yet some essential human experiences and ways of being in the world will remain recognizable to those here today.
In summary, this time-lens or chrono-vision is one more way to understand a place or a moment captured in video or still photograph. Like seasoned wildlife trackers, those will long memories will be able to detect and perceive and tell others the many layers of meanings, events, and personalities that passed that way earlier. Others will not have the depth of memories, but will be keen observers who can identify a few clues about earlier times. But perhaps rarest of all are the people who can take a few principles and facts that will shed a little light on the future events and the look of a place to come. The lens and composition certainly capture a likeness of a time and place, but after that it is the mind that adds in the past and the future to that frozen moment in time.