Need a photo of anything? You whip out your iphone or Android and take a picture—of the scoreboard, the new dress, the sandwich you are about to eat! Photos no longer require composition or a thought process. There’s no film or development cost. Life is free. You point and shoot and if it doesn’t work–delete! You record life and if you want, you can prove every minute that you were in it. Want more of a shout out?? Post it on FB or Instagram. After a while it’s a swirling mass of images. It really starts to mean very little.
But turn back the clock. Keep turning. This is me and my dad.
This is the one photo of just us together that I have. It’s precious. It’s the late forties. My mom probably took this photo—of course black and white or sepia tones, even blurry at the bottom. Camera clickers today would certainly hit delete!
There are other photos of this man, my father, a dentist, who died of a major coronary in 1950. That’s a huge part of my history—the fact of his death. And I’ve written about it before.
But like coins that are scare, or art works of the masters—this photo speaks to me and is worth more than its simple and clumsy composition. It’s worth more than the myriad stuff I view on FB pages. It’s singular. It’s unlike the blast of information thronging today’s phones to which I might give a cursory LIKE and go on. I have studied this. I know every inch of it—the couch, the drapes. His hands, his smile.
The message? This man loves me. He is holding me. He is concerned that I have a weak, wandering eye (strabismus) and that Dr. Sweeney has prescribed drops every day and thus the sunglasses. Once I even fell down the stairs. But it’s agreed to try these conservative measures first. Eventually I will have surgery at age five. But he will be gone.
I’m two here. Dad is trying to soothe me, looking at the camera and smiling, saying, “Smile, Beth, let’s see your pretty smile.” I’m not cooperating. He’s wearing a suit. Is it Sunday? Or maybe he is leaving for work or just got home. He’s with me—that’s all that matters.
My mother made a scrapbook for me years ago. It contains my report cards, the above photo and some of my childhood drawings. But the most precious is the drawing below, of a pumpkin, done by my father. And he has written my name twice above it, maybe to emphasize that the drawing was just for me.
We all have boxes of artwork and school work and cards from our children. When I downsized seven months ago, I had to go through it all and pick highlights to keep—forever. Again, my family, my husband and children are swimming in memories. But this simple drawing is the only exchange of that kind that I have with my father. When I started school, he was gone.
There are a few more photos of my dad—his college graduation photo; one of him in his twenties; wedding photos and a few from their honeymoon. But I hadn’t yet come to be.
Most of the family photos with Dad show him with my older brother or I am in a Christening dress with a head smaller than a pencil eraser. There is a photo of all five of us (my younger brother the tiny baby in that one) and the light from the photo flash has caused me to squeeze up my face and raise my hands to my eyes. Today, that singular family photo so precious to us would have been deleted.
So I cherish these images, recently making a photo book for my older brother. And when my mother died, my husband made a loop of photos and music to honor her. Many people do that now. It gives us all something to hold on to.
I know with iPhones and Google clouds and other storage options, people don’t worry about running from a burning house with their photo albums. But no matter how you take them or how you store them, photos are our history, they capture our relationships, they often as the markers that remind us–we belong–to this family, this person, this community.
Hold on to them, even if one photo is all you have.
Thanks to my mom for saving these precious memories.
You might also like: http://boomerhighway.org/early-childhood-memories-related-to-parental-stories/