Some of them, I hadn't seen in 25 years. Maybe longer.
Our profession had been making memories: taking spent film from people, newly returned from vacations, celebrating a birthday, or wedding, or new life. Photographs captured, made into prints, there for those people to view again, to relive that time.
We made memories.
We sold the equipment to capture those moments: all the accessories to help make capturing those moments as optimal as possible. We provided instruction on how to best use the cameras, how to compose a frame to make the best impact, how to adjust for light conditions. We sold the film—and it was only film, back then—for the best lighting, or the fastest speed. Some film was better for capturing blues and greens; others, for reds and yellows.
We formed bonds with our customers, knew what they wanted. We were entrusted with taking their film and getting the best-quality photo that we could, in the time frame that worked best for them. We earned their trust, and when we did so we guaranteed that they would return, would tell their friends and family to come, so that we could make their memories, too.
But we also formed bonds with our co-workers, made our colleagues friends. We wouldn't only get along at work, but we would also socialize after hours.
Some of them, I hadn't seen in a very long time. Some faces had changed, but names were remembered. Some names were, sadly, forgotten. Some people hadn't changed at all.
Some of the people, I didn't know directly but had seen at Christmas parties, had spoken with, over the phone. A few, I knew only by name.
I attended a reunion of Black's Camera employees this weekend, and it was a step back in time. It was great to see my old manager, my old regional manager, and other colleagues from the various stores in the Ottawa region. It was great to reconnect, and the memories came with the gathering.
I remembered when, as a young assistant manager, how I had gone on vacation to Florida and had returned with a pierced ear. How, when my manager saw it, he asked me to remove it, said it looked unprofessional, stood out from my shirt, slacks, and tie.
This was in the late 80s, when not many men had ears pierced.
The next day, our regional manager arrived for his regular visit to our store. He was a kind, soft-spoken man known for compromises and building positive work environments. I approached him, making sure my pierced ear was out of view, making sure to approach him from an angle, the left side of my face turned slightly away.
"So, what are your thoughts on pierced ears?" I asked.
He gave it some thought before speaking. He always put thought ahead of action. "I don't know," he said, "I don't personally like them but I could never stop anyone from getting one." He paused. "You got an ear pierced, did you?"
I turned to face him straight on. He looked at the gold stud, smiled softly.
"It doesn't look that bad."
I told him about how my manager wanted me to remove it.
"He can't force you to. If he gives you trouble, let me know."
Nothing more was said. And my manager never spoke about my earring again, which made me think that our regional manager had had some words after we finished our talk, when he when into the back room to meet with the manager.
It was good to see this regional manager again at the reunion. I always had the highest respect for him. I like to think that when I try to be fair with the people I encounter, to try to do good by others, that he had some influence on me.
One of the managers that I spent the most time with (not the anti-piercing manager), also imparted good values upon me. He not only taught me valuable photographic tips, but he also taught me to be a good sales person. He gave me confidence and showed me that you can forgive people for mistakes—I once quit, with no notice, with few people available to cover for me, for another job, but when that job fell through, this man took me back, made me his assistant manager, and still encouraged me to follow my dreams.
I was so happy to see him at the reunion, with his wonderful wife, when we could catch up. We promised to keep in touch, and I will keep that promise.
When I worked at Black's Cameras, we made memories for customers. But we took memories for ourselves, too. And this weekend, I was privileged to relive those memories.
Some 25 years later, I see how they have made me who I am today.
I'd like to give a special thanks to Andrea for making the reunion possible. Thanks for helping bring back the memories, Andrea!