Staying at my parents house is somewhat like living in a photo album. I mean no disrespect by that, but it’s no secret that pictures are everywhere in their house. Even the front porch entry way is festively decorated with images of family fun. The refrigerator door is adorned with photos..mostly of my daughter with various birthday cakes through the years, and other fun-filled adventures. The living room has photos of vacations, scenic places, school pictures, high points of our family’s passing years. The hallway has classic family photos…my parents’ wedding, old photos of my grandparents, my wedding picture, some traditional family photographs from church directories, and my favorite, an antique-looking “old time family photo” which we sat for in 1984 during a family trip to Gettysburg. That photographer was all-in and made us dress, pose, and cast serious looks as if it truly was an 1860’s daguerreotype. It was still “Throwback Thursday” when I started writing this post, so I decided to include it here for fun, too. To my parents’ credit, they like pictures, and they like displaying them. It makes a lot more sense than storing them all away unseen.
So, with all these pictures around, I rarely feel the need to browse through photo albums when I am visiting. Last night, though, I was restless from traveling and decided to flip through the photo album sitting on side table under the pictures in the hallway. I turned the pages and pulled black and white photos, color prints, and Polaroids from their hiding places. I always enjoy seeing early pictures of family from before I was born, giving faces to the lore that is shared at family gatherings. But, what caught my attention this time were photos from early times in my life that I either had forgotten about, or had not previously seen. I was drawn to photos of me sitting on the lap of my Aunt Edna, photos of me in the places I have written about here: churches, schools, camps, with a whole array of family and friends. These were photos that had captured a brief moment at the time they were happening. Yet, the stories behind those moments obviously imprinted on me deeply. These small points of light have taken on a role in my inner life, building a developmental story out of the complexity of experiences.
I have two pictures especially I am cherishing from this photographic walk down memory lane. One is a black and white photograph mounted on heavy cardboard, my parents standing proudly while the pastor holds baby me…this was from my dedication. There are richly symbolic images in this picture, ones that I will be taking in for some time. Clearly, I am seeing the photograph with new eyes because of the journey I am traveling. The other a more recent photo of my grandmother and I; the photo was taken at a family wedding and there is just something about our posture, the way in which we are linking arms and the similarities of our expressions that speaks to the depth of our relationship. That was just a couple years before her death. I still think of her every day with gratitude for her strength of character and everyday resilience…all of which seem to radiate in that picture in particular.
Looking at the photo album also made me realize that my writing has changed me: some moments I practically overlooked were obviously vital to the path I am walking in the world in this very present moment. We hold our life experiences deeply, wrapped in the depth of our conscious and unconscious memories. Perception is as much the truth of our life as is a captured fragment of time and space on film. Our memories can be loosened…or heightened…by the preserved visual.
Tonight, I am looking around my parent’s house with a new appreciation. It is a challenge for them to live such a distance from their grand-daughter, but in this house my daughter can be seen constantly growing, emerging, changing, experiencing life in these images all around them. These captured moments bring memory to life, and keep it ever emerging in their space. I have come to appreciate the photo album of their life more deeply, seeing the light it spreads on the journey.