By seeing the garage sale sign in late Mr. Shepherd’s driveway, Michael slowed down his car and glanced into the garage on an impulse. It was packed. Obviously, Mr. Shepherd’s inheritors didn’t want to keep any of their father’s belongings, so they put them all in that garage for a quick sale.
John Shepherd was a retired army colonel, and his wife Martha was a retired primary school teacher. And they lived two houses down the street from Michael’s home. Though they had never visited each other’s houses, they had frequently met on the street and talked about different subjects mainly related to their neighborhood issues.
After a long battle with cancer, Martha Shepherd passed away, and almost two years later, John Shepherd joined her with a sudden heart attack. “It is about three months since he passed away! Time is flying!” Michael thought. “Why I didn’t get to know the couple more?” He felt guilty, but he was a busy man with a family and two teenagers.
Michael parked his car in his driveway and walked toward Shepherd’s property. He didn’t want to buy anything, only to satisfy his curiosity and see what was left for sale. The spacious garage was packed with almost everything; old armchairs, tables, framed pictures, Chinas, glassware, books, and so on. Some items looked antique and valuable, but Michael wasn’t into old stuff. He preferred modern designs to old ones. While scanning the goods left for sale, he came close to an old Nikon camera. Though he was a keen photographer, he didn’t know much about old-fashioned film cameras. Michael was using a DSLR camera, and he couldn’t recall when it was the last time he had used a film camera. His knowledge about vintage cameras was limited. But that camera was different. It was like his father’s camera, a Nikon SP. On a summer day, when Michael was around seven or eight years of age, his father came home carrying a relatively large box containing his newly bought toy, a Nikon Camera. “It was a state-of-the-art camera then,” he thought, remembering his excitement when his father and he unpacked the camera. He also remembered the challenge of loading the first film roll into their new device. It was a bit tricky.
The camera was neglected and covered with a thick layer of dust. Michael held the camera in his hand. It was much heavier than his latest digital camera, ironically a Nikon. “Classic, not plastic,” he thought. Then he looked into its viewfinder, aiming at a nearby object. Though it was left unattended for many years, its viewfinder was clear, and he could effortlessly operate its aperture ring and shutter speed dial. It brought many good memories from his childhood when his father taught him photography. Michael lost his father in Vietnam, and he had his camera with him on his last tour in that infamous war.
“How much for the camera?” Michael asked a young lady there, probably Shepherd’s granddaughter.
She looked in the inventory she held in her hand and responded, “fifty bucks.”
It sounded reasonable, but Michael still negotiated. “How about thirty bucks? Nowadays, all cameras are digital, and finding film is not easy.”
After a moment of indecision, she responded, “Ok, thirty dollars then.”
Micheal grabbed three ten-dollar bills, all he had in his wallet, and passed them to her, and with the camera in his hand, he strolled back home. He was contented with his purchase. With only thirty dollars, he bought a camera that was like the one his father had, a replacement for his father’s lost camera, a reminder of his late father.
Excited with his purchase, Michael took his camera cleaning kit and began brushing the dust off the old camera. Soon he realized that still was a film inside its chamber. By the camera’s look and the amount of dust gathered on its body, it hadn’t been used for a long time. “It easily could be there for decades!” Michael told himself and thanked his luck he didn’t open the camera’s back. It could expose the old film to light and burn it.
“But the old film can be already spoiled,” Michael thought. He was tempted to open the camera’s back a few times. But Michael resisted the urge. After all, he wanted to see the taken photographs. They could have historical value. As a long time had passed since he worked with a film camera, he wasn’t sure how to remove the film safely. “It is better to be safe than sorry,” Michael told himself and left the job for an expert.
But there was another problem. Excluding a few enthusiasts, no one used film cameras anymore, so most photo labs were driven out of business. So he fired his laptop and began searching. Soon he found a camera shop close to his workplace that was still accepting films for development. So the next day, after work, he drove to the camera shop and showed his camera to the middle-aged shop owner.
The man cautiously held the camera and vetted it. “Wow! I haven’t seen such a good camera for a long time. I will give you a grand for this,” he offered on the spot.
Surprised by the generous offer, a thousand dollars, ways above the money he paid, Michael responded, “it’s not for sale. There is a film inside the camera. So to not damage the old film, I brought it here. I like you to remove and develop the film.”
“Not a problem,” the man said, and after rewinding the film, he opened the camera’s back and skillfully removed the old film roll. “My god, this is an Agfa monochrome film, guess forty years old,” he said excitedly. “But this is a very old film and may yield nothing!”
“Please do your best.”
“I will. Fingers crossed, I’ll let you know if I salvage any shots.”
“Thanks,” Michael said and left the shop curious about what he would find in that old film.
A week later, he collected the developed film with four faded prints. The rest of the shots had been lost forever. The best print showed a group of soldiers posing for the shot on top of a tank’s turret. The other three photos showed full geared soldiers crossing a rice field, soldiers in an Asian village among anxious-looking locals, and soldiers playing volleyball, possibly at their military base. Though the quality of the pictures was terrible, seeing them sent a chill down Michael’s spine. By heart, he knew those shots were from Vietnam, where his father went MIA.
That night, he scanned those photos and forwarded them to his computer-savvy friend Joshua, asking for his help, digitally enhancing the old pictures.
The next day, Michael received an email from Joshua with four attachments. He opened the email with a shaking hand, excited to see the enhanced version of those pictures. He was pleased with Joshua’s great job. The photoshopped pictures were about four times sharper than their originals, showing more details. He scrutinized the photos one by one. The first one showed soldiers in an Asian village, Vietnamese for sure, apparently trading something with anxious villagers. It was arduous to recognize one soldier from the other, as their facial features were still unclear. In the second photo of volleyball-playing soldiers, except for a few spectators, most of the faces were blurred, likely because of their movements and the camera’s slow shutter speed. Michael stared at the face of those who were watching the game. He didn’t know any of them. “If they are still alive, they must be old men into their eighties,” Michael thought. Then he checked the picture of soldiers crossing a large rice field. Though it had more details than its original photo, it was taken from a distance, so it didn’t reveal much about the soldiers’ identities. In the last picture, a group of soldiers mounted on top of a tank turret, posing for the shot. To his shock, the soldier with a Sergeant insignia on his uniform’s sleeves, who sat on the peak of the tank’s turret, was his father. He couldn’t take his eyes from his father’s picture for a long time. It triggered memories both happy and sad and brought tears into his eyes.
After he gained his emotions back on the leash, he began examining other individuals in that photo. To his surprise, the young lieutenant sitting next to his father had the same structure and looked like his late neighbor Mr. Shepherd. The young Shepherd, a lieutenant, posed with his squad, with his dad among them. “Shepherd knew my father! Dad’s commanding officer,” Michael thought and immediately regretted why he didn’t spend time with Shepherd, to know him more. “He could tell me more about my dad and what happened to him in Vietnam,” he thought with sorrow.
The camera he purchased was likely his father’s Nikon and not Mr. Shephard’s. “It back to his lawful owner.” The thought filled his eyes with tears. After putting the camera in a glass trophy case, Michael placed it on display in their lounge room. It reminded him of his childhood and the good times he had with his father learning photography with that camera.