Monday, August 18, 2008

Ramblings about photgraphs

Not that picture, specifically; it just happens to be an example. When ever I see an old picture for sale, be it on ebay, etsy, or at a rummage sale, a little part of me is sad.

That little girl is someone's aunt, someone's mom, someone's grandma. On one of the most important days of a young Catholic's life, no less. Did no one think it was important enough to save? Did no one care enough about this woman to save this picture of her a girl?

The old pictures I see for sale are inevitably of young people. I know it's crazy, but part of me wants to buy every old picture I find just so it will have someone to love it. (Yeah, I'm going off the deep end with this one.) It just seems so sad to me that no one saves these pictures.

Maybe it's just me; I do think I probably have a bizarre fascination with old pictures. I look at them and try to slip in the mind of the person in the picture. What were they thinking at that moment? (Probably, "Please don't make me say cheese.") What was life like at that moment in time? Did they have a good childhood? Did they die young? Or did they marry their high school sweetheart? Did they get divorced, or were they married 50 years?

This is probably especially crazy, but any time I see an old picture at a rummage sale, I look at for any possibility that it's some relation of mine. Really what are the odds of that? But the idea that I could be unknowingly snubbing one of my own kills me. I have to check. (And really, what do I expect? People in the 1900s looked so different that I'd be hard pressed to find any family resemblance. But still, I search.)

When my grandma died in March of 2007, we spent a nearly a week going through family pictures. I remember saying, "If it weren't for the whole death thing, funerals would be a lot of fun." We had a fabulous time sorting through literally boxes and boxes of old family pictures. I think it's absolutely fascinating to see "old" people when they were young. I love searching their faces for any trace of familiarity, any trace of myself. I have a couple pictures of my mom that I adore, two from her first communion and one of her in her Easter best (complete with bonnet, natch!). We look so much alike, it's uncanny. It's one thing to intellectually know that at one time your mother was young, but to have photographic evidence is something else entirely.

There was also a picture of my grandma, probably in her early 20s, standing under a tree in a heavy wool coat. I wonder who ended up with it; I would love to have a copy of it. I can't get that image of my grandma out of my mind. When I think of her life, who she was at that moment in time. She got married at 20, had her first child (of 13) at 21. At the time that picture was taken, she probably had 2 or 3 kids. She was my age. Again, something that goes without saying, and yet it's so bizarre to me: my grandma was once my age. What was it like being 25 in 1940? I think of all that she had accomplished by then. It's hard to put into words, the feeling of awe I experience when I think of that picture and my grandma. It sounds silly when I try to describe it.

I don't know if there was really point to this post except to say, treasure your family photographs. It's a moment in time, forever captured. Someday, people are going to look back and wonder about you, what you did, who you were, what made you you. And for the love of God, please try to make sure they don't end up at a rummage sale 80 years from now.