When One Photo Is All You Have

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.

When One Photo Is All You Have

My Dad and Me


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.

When One Photo Is All You Have

This is the pumpkin he drew for me.

Thanks to my mom for saving these precious memories.

You might also like: http://boomerhighway.org/early-childhood-memories-related-to-parental-stories/



8 thoughts on “When One Photo Is All You Have

  1. Beth,
    I loved this article. We are HUGE photographers in my family…. I learned to develop film with my father at a young age, develop it the old fashioned way, in a dark room, with metal reels and processing chemicals… I took photography classes in college so I could learn how to use an englarger and I spent many nights in my laundry room, enveloped in the smell of things called Stop and D-76… I burned and dodged with tools I made and discovered what my particular composition talents were. I owe my love of photography to my father who still captures images that evoke powerful emotions when I look a them.
    With the onslaught of digital photography and the expense of such cameras I was unable to keep up with my love of photography. The cost to develop film these days is large. The cost of a digital camera is also expansive. I have a point and shoot which I use to capture the images of my daughter that I don’t want to forget but I find that so much of my photos now sit in a file on a computer and don’t get looked at or passed around at family parties anymore.
    I found myself saddened by the complete take over of digital photography. I miss the wonder I used to feel when I saw an image emerging in my developing trays.
    However, my heart will always feel connected to my father for passing down his legacy of photography, for giving me the ability to capture precious memories!
    Thank you for the beautiful article today.

    • Thank you for appreciating it. I sometimes hesitate to share very personal things. So your reply reveals that photography helped forge that bond with your dad. Your images in your reply are wonderful. I had a friend who even in 7th grade could pull a photo from a tray in her dark room. Very smart girl. I was in love with Prince Charles in those days so she made a special photo of the Royal Family after Prince Andrew as born. It got ruined years later, but the moment of seeing it come to life stays with me. Keep taking those photos of Grace, even though the digital age has changed things. And next time you see your dad??? ask him to bring his camera and have Grace ready!! Beth

  2. Dear Beth…..this is a wonderful Boomer Highway, and one that we can all relate to. Yes, we lost our Dad at too early an age, but there are these photographs to remember him by. And the thing I hold onto the hardest is each other, as family can get you down the road when it seems like an impossible task. And all the photos we take today, will be cherished tomorrow. There are no guarantees in life, and this Boomer Highway points us to hold onto every moment and cherish it……..Bill

    • Thanks, Bill. No guarantees, that’s for sure. But it certainly is nice to have a visual reminder of where we come from and who loved us and loves us still. Family is everything and those that don’t have what we have had often struggle to make life work. We have been so fortunate. Beth

  3. Beth – I really enjoyed your blog. I’m sorry you didn’t have more time with your Dad because I’m certain that he was a wonderful man. The photo of you and your Dad and the pumpkin drawing are such precious reminders of his love for you. We have so many photos and I have trouble knowing what to do with all of them. We don’t have enough walls or tables to display all our favorites. I do run a continual slideshow on my desktop computer of all the digital photos I have saved. You and your family are in some of them! We sometimes just sit at the kitchen table and watch the wonderful memories roll by until the computer goes into sleep mode.
    Thank you for the beautiful memories.

    • Glad I am part of your life, Joan, and you part of mine. Photos bring us closer together when we are farther apart. Having a loop of films on your computer is a great idea. We are in the process of doing that and also of reevaluating the old albums. I want to make some Mac Books using my favorite pictures, as some are fading away.
      Hope you have a fun Halloween if you are with Jasmine and Julian. Hugs, Beth

  4. Great memories and story, Beth. You have grown
    To become a beautiful woman and terrific mom
    and wife. Your parents would be very proud.

    • Thanks, Ed. I guess I can say I TRY! I was blessed with a wonderful set of parents. My Mom then became big enough for two!. Always, Beth

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