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Gary Horton: Serve well, for tomorrow we shall die

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: April 8, 2009 12:58 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

If you’ve never been to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you’re missing something grand. Saratoga is a resplendent American town.
Known nationally for its famous horse racing and mineral springs, the city is also boasts one of America’s most beautiful historic Main Streets.

Think 150-year-old five- and six-story hotels, offices and stores running on for blocks, followed by beautifully lawned Victorian mansions, continuing outward to colleges, horse grounds and farms.

Then there are the back streets with pubs and restaurants, churches (each has its own adherents), small businesses and, in the case of Saratoga, antique shops.

New York State overflows with antique stores. There are hundreds of burgs and villages, each apparently eager to sell off the artifacts of those who’ve lived and died there over past centuries.

Unlike Santa Clarita, where our idea of old is anything built before Newhall Land’s Master Plan, New York State goes way back … to the Hudson Bay Company … to smack dab in the middle of the Civil War.

Expansive ancient cemeteries dot New York’s mid-state like car lots do our Auto Row. Not surprisingly, Saratoga Springs and its thousand community cousins are fertile grounds for antiques and all things musty and dusty.

We visited Saratoga Springs last weekend for Christopher’s fiancée’s bridal shower.
Quick, cheap flights (recession priced at just $270) got Carrie and me there to meet the prospective in-laws and attend the celebrations.

Touring Saratoga Springs with Chris and Trish, we dropped into one of the town’s many antique shops.

This one wasn’t so much about old spinning wheels and handcrafted dressers.

This one was chock-a-bloc full of just … stuff, from the past 20 decades. Floor to ceiling, the room was packed with just about everything you or I would have sooner or later thrown out as worn out, outdated and of no further use.

I rather expected to see the infamous “leg lamp” so prominent in “A Christmas Story.”

Old frumpy suitcases. The odd kitchen device. Ancient Kodak cameras that were little more than cardboard boxes wrapped in fake leather sheathing. “Click,” and somehow the box took a rudimentary tiny black and white photo.

Vintage magazines, like the Saturday Evening Post were piled high mid-store. I opened one and was surprised to see a full page Kodak Instamatic ad. Instamatics, starting at only $19.95.

Let’s see … that would be about $150 in 2009 dollars for a crummy still-photo camera requiring $2 flash cubes! That same $150 today buys the latest iPod zillion gigabyte mini-computer that does everyone on earth and also films … movies.

There’s been some progress made over the years. Certainly, in terms of “stuff.” The old stuff outdates itself quickly.

I closed the Post and my eye caught a stack of old portrait photos off to the side. Carefully posed black and whites portraits bound in expensive matting.

The kind like from your great-great-grandpa’s graduation or wedding. Perhaps a hundred or more photos — piled up — abandoned and forgotten by their owner’s ancestors.

An old woman posing; a young man in military attire; a promising couple marrying. One had hand notes across the inside cover designating the pictured wedding as July 1902.

A stack of intimate portraits piled up in a dark corner of an antique shop in an old side street in mid-state New York.

The most treasured moments in the lives of those pictured, now for sale to strangers from somewhere else in time and place.

Fondest memories forgotten and now hawked for just a couple of bucks.

That’s pause for thought.

How did those once-cherished portraits end up so forgotten and alone?

Who failed to love that uncle, or father, or mother that he or she thought not to pass their stories and pictures to the next generation? Instead, perhaps those pictured likely grew old and lonely while friends and relatives moved away or died themselves, until no one was there to remember or care.

And when the time came, the junk man came to empty the house and the portraits were just part and parcel of the loot of the lost.

In most ways for most all of us, this is our ultimate fate and final estate. Those with faith hope for more in Heavens above. But as for our earthly legacy, unless we’re an Obama for good or Bush for evil or Steve Jobs for the best gadgets ever built, our final legacy likely lies in some dusty virtual corner of some circa 2150 virtual antique shop. Deny it you may, but who will remember you in one or two hundred years?

Except for the ripples we effect in the pond of life. Except for the trajectory of those we’ve raised, or those we’ve taught, or those we’ve influenced to in turn change the world.

The then living will be our ongoing legacy, and at the end of our lives, they will be about the only thing left of us. Our stuff and our portraits and our Signal columns and everything else will surely be forgotten.

But as for the trajectory of our influence? Well friends, it’s time for each of us to go out and work for a positive influence on this world. For our digital photos will disappear as soon as the batteries or some future equivalent die.

How we serve and help one another is our promise for a meaningful lasting legacy. So we might as well live well and give well, for tomorrow we die.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia.  “Full Speed to Port” appears Wednesdays in The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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