My paternal family in 1939 (my father is the little boy on the front!)
I dedicate this blog piece to my cousins, with whom I share an unbreakable bond and a history that lives in my recurrent dreams of our weekly gatherings at Grandma’s. This photo journey has deeply impacted them all.
This Is My Story
It has taken me about ten years, but I just finished scanning family photos dating back to 1919! Pictures are my thing. After my parents’ death, I called everyone I knew and held an open house where everyone was invited to get whatever they pleased from home. My parents were well-known, much loved, and deeply respected people. There was never a doubt in my mind that their possessions too were to be deeply cherished.
There was only one exception to this free-for-all opportunity: nobody could touch a single picture. Those were the only things I valued, wanted, and needed. Photographs were utterly off-limits.
My father loved documenting everything and everyone in our lives. As a result, there was a room full of photo albums in my parents’ home. Dad always ordered duplicate photos to gift to every person that had the good fortune of appearing in any of his pictures (as in everyone we knew!).
When the time came to move the collected photo albums, the cost of this adventure was over $2,000. But the process of selecting the pictures that best represented our life history together could not be rushed. I knew this, and I paid that money with joy.
For many months, those photo albums occupied all the space in our formal living room that had remained unfurnished since we moved in. There were over 400 photo albums! As time went by, I selected the photos that meant the most to me and created brand-new albums with them.
Some months later, we built our new media room, and we made specific cabinets just for these photo albums. At a rate of about one album a month, I started the process of scanning all those pictures. Albums were originally classified by year. That helped me create digital folders for every year, and I organized all my scanned photos that way, electronically. And yes, I discarded those albums and the prints once these were scanned and safely backed up.
The process was deeply emotional, intense, and satisfying. I saw things I never knew existed in pictures. For the first time, I saw my twin sisters that died shortly after birth. I had no idea there was a single picture of them!
Like that, I went through every facet of the emotional spectrum with pictures of relatives and friends young and old, dead and alive, reviving the many adventures we had as a tribe. And so many stories came back to me while others came alive for the first time. People, parties, music, dance, meetings, joy, food, drinks, and laughter continuously filled my parents’ home.
As soon as the prints were all scanned, I remembered my neglected box of slides and movies. The slides numbered over 3,000. I knew there were specific, cherished moments of my life in those slides. I bought a $30 ““contraption”” that allowed me to stabilize the iPhone and the slides. I also purchased a $29 app (Photomyne) to scan and optimize the slides. The scanning process was labor-intensive but a breeze. The emotional voyage was something else.
So after about ten years (I can’t believe this took me so long!), everything is scanned and organized electronically by year. I enjoyed sharing some of these pictures with very special people from our past along this journey. I have discovered that images grab people’s hearts and make an unforgettable and deeply appreciated gift. So many relationships from the past have resurfaced, and many hearts were touched as a result of this process.
Pictures are often ignored inside our phones or in less than carefully maintained photo albums. They do not tell a story that way. Our kids don’t know about our childhood and youthful adventures. It is hard for them to grasp that we were once their age, with insecurities, excitement, drama, romance, and stupidity, just like them! However, reconnecting with our past brings all that emotion, color, adventure, and joy to our present. And guess what? It turns out our children are the most excited cheerful consumers of these stories.
Knowing our family history makes us more resilient as human beings. Pictures are invaluable to the process of recounting our stories. We need only to listen with the heart for a moment.
So that is my story. What’s yours?