Friday, July 02, 2010

Sepia Saturday 30 : The Old Commer Van

Memories are ephemeral things which only seem to be able to survive by attaching themselves to physical objects, like a snowflake coalescing around a grain of dust. Here on Sepia Saturday we tend to think of the photograph as the grain of dust - how many times have I and others said that our photographs have the ability to preserve memories - but you can't photograph a memory. It is the object that forms the subject of the photograph that is the fixative agent, it is the object that is the grain of dust within the snowflake of a memory.

My father in his beloved Commer Van
All this serves as an introduction to a photograph of my father in his old Commer Van. It may just look like an old van to you, but to my father it was a pride and joy - his first four wheeled vehicle, an object that was worshiped each Sunday by a liturgy of washing, cleaning, and polishing. To me, this mediocre picture of this prosaic vehicle is a rich tapestry of memories.

The picture must have been taken in the early 1960s. My father worked at the Mackintosh's Toffee factory in Halifax and the firm would sell off vehicles that had been used by their traveling salesmen to workers. It was bright red - the same shade as that used by the Post Office, and we would always have people running after the van trying to push letters through the window into what they thought was the departing Post Office collection van.

My mother posing next to the van on some highway or byway.
I spent much of my early teens in the back of that van. When my father first bought it there were no windows in the back (it had, after all, been a delivery van) but over time he saved enough money to have some windows put in, and all of a sudden I was able to see the English countryside roll by. Eventually it was replaced by other vehicles, but it is that first Commer Van that I remember the best. I suspect that my son will not even be able to remember the kind of car I had when I was young. Times change, and the speck of dust becomes something else. But I have a feeling that if he ends up blogging in a similar vein to this in 40 years time, the picture might be of an old Sega Megadrive, but the sentiments will be the same.


To see photographs of other grains of dust and the memories they preserve, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog.

18 comments:

  1. What a fabulous post today Alan. How wonderful that you have a photo of both parents with the van. It's hard for me to imagine it being red! I can just see your dad polishing it each weekend and looking it over with great pride. Wonderful that you remember windows being installed so you could enjoy the scenery. That is a magnificent rock wall that your mom is posing by also. Thanks for a trip down memory lane.

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  2. Such good memories, and I love the photo of your mum in the headscarf standing by the car.

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  3. Great memories, I'll bet! If you're a family who likes to travel, vans are indispensable.

    We had vacation transportation alongside of the regular family car. We used to go camping for summer vacation, plus we had a crude log cabin on a dirt road in Pennsylvania for summer living (no electricity, we had a Coleman gas stove for cooking, a potbelly stove for heat, and kerosene lamps for light). And my Dad got an old Willys Jeep wagon to haul things there (we got water from several public pumps in the area, and filled old milk cans at the pumps and took them back to the cabin) and to go camping in. But the Willys was old and Dad couldn't keep it up, so we ended up getting a 1966 Dodge van, powder blue (but without the camper pop-top in the linked picture) that lasted until well after I left home in 1973. That Dodge van got a ot of use!

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  4. Oh, it's just adorable. I want one!! (you're so lucky to have these photos, Alan)

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  5. This was a lot of fun, Alan. Really nice photos, too.

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  6. My old man's first car was a Hilman Imp - he couldn't drive till he was in his 50s and we moved into the countryside.

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  7. Though I don't have any memories of the Commer Van, I can certainly appreciate its appealing appearance, and I enjoyed reading your memories of the van. I'd like to ride in a red van like this. Would your father be offended if I said it looked charming? What fun to see the wedding photo, and then these photos some years later. Love the post!

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  8. funny anecdote, to be confused for the postman.
    greetings!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  9. That is a very cool looking car. Don't you wish you had it now? If only we children had known our parents were buying what would become "collectibles".

    Your opening lines are beautiful, btw.

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  10. This is such a wonderful post on several levels. Family cars, for me, hold a lot of significance, and significant memories...

    You are right about the memories coalescing around the photos. In fact, looking through old photo albums does bring up so many details I thought I'd forgotten...

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  11. love the way you write!

    thank goodness you got some windows!!

    what a perfect vehicle for touring the countryside - plenty of room to bring along everything one might happen to need for impromptu picnics.

    thanks for the dust!

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  12. What a great looking old van! Your story of people trying to push mail into the windows reminded me of when our company rented the building that had been the Fallbrook Water Dept. People were always trying to pay their bills through our mail slot. There was a large sign with their new address but that didn't seem to help. We usually drove their envelopes to the new place so that their payments wouldn't be late.

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  13. A Good Machine To Drive Along Any Quality Street!

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  14. What a story! I can imagine you patiently riding in the back sort of being able to see out the front window. I would have never thought that the vehicle was red. You are right about the memories. The ones my boys talk about are so different in content than the ones that I hold. I was a farm boy and they never stood on a farmstead once. Great blog. Have a good weekend.

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  15. I love the image of people shoving mail in the windows. Very funny!

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  16. Great photos and musing, I love the grain of dust and memories. Interesting that the post office used red for their vans. That never happened here in the states that I know of. Never heard of that type vehicle before and without windows! Naturel air conditioning!

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  17. Each photograph a rich tapestry of memories...I love that, Alan! It is so true. Your dad does look proud of his Commer. I married into a family that took pride in their vehicles like that...the washing, waxing and primping all over it is a weekend ritual. :)

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  18. The grain of dust/snowflake image for memory is just beautiful; it reminds me of my parents' old VW bus of a similar vintage.

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