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Thoughts On Memories

July 3, 2010

I was listening to the radio while I was driving home from shooting video along the Union Pacific’s Chester Subdivision a few weeks ago, when the host of the show said something that caught my attention. He was talking about how science had validated something that previously considered to be a legend among some South American native tribe. He commented that with our ability to write things down, we lose a lot because we have no oral tradition.

That got me thinking. As railfans, we so frequently are caught up in the activity of documenting the places we go and the things we see that we often see very little of what is going on.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

In 1992, two friends and I went to Kansas City to chase and ride behind Union Pacific 3985 as it ran east to pull CSX’s Santa Claus train. One friend rode the train while the other and I chased it all the way across the state of Missouri. And I hardly remember any of it.

Oh, yes, I remember the details. It was November 7, 1992. We caught the train near Pleasant Hill and Strasburg, nearing and departing Sedalia, charging through California, stopping at Jefferson City, speeding though Bonnott’s Mill, making a photo run and departing Hermann, smoking up the town of Washington, and whistling through Pacific after dark. I remember how it snowed as we neared Kansas City, and didn’t melt off until we had gotten a couple of good snow shots.

Yeah, I remember details. But much of what I remember is based on the still photos I shot, the sound recordings I made and the video my friend shot. I think of that day, and those captured sounds and images are what I remember.

Could it be that with all this technology to do the work for us, we don’t HAVE to remember our experiences? Rather than fondly remembering watching the Challenger in person, my memory is closer to that of the memory of a Hollywood film that someone has seen repeatedly.

Come to think of it, I remember much more plainly the night in October, 1987, that I stood along the Illinois Central mainline at midnight as the northbound piggyback train approached with it’s headlight illuminating a light fog ahead of it. I had nothing to record that image other than my memory, and the experience of it remains much more vivid nearly a quarter of a century later.

I’m not so sure this is entirely a bad thing. After all, you can share the photos and videos with your friends. You can even share it with the world with the advent of the internet. Surely this is a good thing.

Perhaps our ability to preserve these moments enriches everyone with the sole exception of the person who was actually there. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade the shelves full of audio tapes, video cassettes, DVD’s, prints and negatives I’ve produced over the years for a better recollection of those same events.

Maybe though, I should occasionally put the cameras down and just enjoy the show.


Copyright 2010, Mary Rae McPherson

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    July 3, 2010 3:42 pm

    I’ts called Old Timers, Uh I mean Anheusers, no wait ALZHEIMERS!

    The reason is that you can view your images whenever you want and probably have,thus making even the most unusual, pretty mundane. Whereas the memory is something that you don’t get the opportunity to think about whenever you want. Some other event will usually trigger the memory to recall the event.

  2. Chuck Hinrichs permalink
    July 3, 2010 9:43 pm

    A beautiful thought perfectly described. . . .

  3. July 4, 2010 11:28 pm

    Sometimes we get caught up in what we are doing, taking the perfect shot, to appreciate what is happening in front of the camera.

    At least once each trip is it a good idea to leave the camera in the car and just enjoy.

    BTW love your blog.

  4. July 6, 2010 1:50 pm

    There is something very magical about telling of an event and it is great if one can write about an event in a manner that allows the feeling and mood to be captured.
    My 1957 trip from Effingham, IL to New Orleans, LA on the I.C. is not documented in writing or photos. We left IL and we arrived in New Orleans. I returned to New Orleans by rail [Amtrak] more recently; I remember anticipating the experience of the warm, humid and tropical aromas that I recalled from 1957. They were not there!

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