In the early 1980s, my mum was in her sixties and looking after my stepfather with encroaching dementia. They lived 200 miles away from my home. We were not archetypally close, and she wasn’t a “mumsy” woman, she had always stayed professional in style throughout our childhoods, her appearance as important as it was to us as teenagers. She had a rather self-critical standard to keep to. But the increasingly disturbed nights and long days combining care and work at their publishing business was taking its toll on her.
She came for a short holiday visit to me in Norfolk. We went for a beach walk, a sunbath, paddle, just as friends might do. I had my very precious SLR film camera, my pride and joy from art school days, and I took a “glamour“ photo of her in swimsuit sitting on the breakwater. This was an “event” before the days of selfies.
We packed up our things and walked on, and it was only later that evening I realised the camera was missing. Where was it? I reported it to the police, and very soon heard back that it had been handed in.
A man walking on the beach had seen us far in the distance, messing about playfully. He had seen my camera left balanced on the breakwater and retrieved it for me. The tide would have otherwise come in and taken it away. He could have kept this valuable item, but he didn’t.
Thirty years later, my stepfather long dead, and with another disabled partner to care for, my speechless immobilised mum went into a nursing home after a huge stroke. We emptied the house and brought her favourite pictures she had kept in her bedroom. There was the glamour photo I’d taken but forgotten about, her favourite view of herself, still vibrant, playful, happy.
If that very kind stranger had not made the effort to walk along and fetch and my camera, the memory of that meeting point with my mother liking herself, and the shared enjoyment we had, would have been lost.
To her, and to me too.
Since then, I’ve found and returned cameras, all in pre-digital days, and even lost another one on a world trip, and had it returned, meeting the finder that time. Each time, it’s not just the hardware, the dreary monetary value, but the thought of the lost images that stirred the desire to find the owner. Sharing our human empathic kindness.