Gazing up the steep stairwell in complete darkness aided only by the dim light of my iPhone, I ponder the significance of this climb as the rush of childhood memories start flooding my consciousness.
Step by step I found myself gripping the same handrail that guided me to this dark place some 50 years earlier.
During a recent business trip through Central Georgia, photographing Firehouse Subs restaurants, I had an opportunity to swing through Dublin Georgia, a place I hadn’t visited in decades and the former home of my Grandparents. As childhood memories go, visiting my Grandpa during the holidays and summer was a wonderful time. The 60’s were innocent times, full of exploration and learning for this pre-teen. My Grandfather was the manager of Dublin’s Woolworth store, but he might as well have been the President in my eyes. A larger-than-life, deep-voiced German, Mr. Vogel to others was a gentle giant of a soul.
I often went to work with him, sweeping and doing odds and ends for the tidy sum of fifty cents a day. One big job that I had was bringing new stock items down from the second-floor storerooms. While the task was simple enough, these storerooms were a place of terror for me. Dark and musky smelling, the rooms were full of murky life. Silhouettes of mannequins watched my every move and images of the Wolfman adorned the toy model boxes. No matter how scared I was, Grandpa would continue to send me up to the “land of no return.” I believe he was helping me to develop skills to control my fear. A lesson I that would help me the rest of my life.
Almost exactly 50 years later, I find my self at the bottom of that stairwell again. The old Woolworth building is now a trendy restaurant with many of the old objects repurposed as art on the walls.
As the owner listens to me telling the story about the upstairs storage attic, he ushers me to the back of the building and invites me to go up there one more time – alone. He tells me to take my cameras and spend as much time as I like. At the top of the dark stairwell is another door, once opened the natural light spills out, and the musky odor of this place rushes back. Gone are the werewolves and evil mannequins, replaced my memories of past times with my Grandpa. As I place my hand on the walls, old peeling lead-based paint crumbles to the floor; the old wooden floor creaks under my feet, I find myself thanking my Grandfather for the many lessons of facing my fears.