Life Notes: Snapshots of the Past
Archiving old photos is much more than house-cleaning

We recently went through our old photos – plain old photos taken by the simplest camera. This was an attempt to tame the incredible chaos that has become our family archives.

We’ve moved several times over the last few years and promised ourselves each time that one of our very first projects would be to organize those precious photos. So finally, it was time to keep the pledge.

Inside an antique trunk in our den, the hundreds and hundreds of flashcube moments reside in almost no order. It’s downright shameful. But it also makes for a great rainy day sport as two empty-nesters attempt the organizing project, then lose ourselves in the “Oh my God, look at this!” moments.

The years fly by even though it sometimes seems the days never end. That’s the lesson of those earliest years when our lives were defined by tiny hands clasping ours, toothless smiles and three little girls captured as they sat, then crawled, then took those first momentous steps.

Those are the photos we’d grab first in a fire. Those are the ones that tear out our hearts any time we pause to remember the days of diapers, crushed crackers underfoot, little corduroy overalls and ruffled dresses. They seemed so daunting and draining as we were living them. But reflected in the grainy old pictures, they seem like the best, happiest, sweetest glory days.

I come from a long line of irrational women who loved having babies and taking care of them. I hated when one stage ended and another began. I wept, honestly wept, as each daughter learned to ride a bicycle. It somehow signified the end of a glorious period of time when home was all the girls knew. The first day of school. The first slumber party. The last time I walked them to school. They’re all chronicled in those fading photo monuments to the life of a family.

We have photos, too, of when the inevitable tugging began signaling that the girls would leave us and go out into the world. For Jill, it came early because this firstborn was always determined to speed up every stage of coming of age. And she always succeeded.

Amy lingered longer, but left us just as surely as adolescence marched in and stole her. She was gone in a blink, marching in lock step with her peers – all of them obsessed with hair, the cut of their jeans and a boy named Andy.

Nancy, left behind when her big sisters abandoned ship, is ironically the least photographed daughter. We joke about it still, but it’s a deep regret. We’d just somehow surrendered to time, and the camera gathered dust.

But stored in some out-of-the-way brain cells are images of this lastborn in her lavender prom dress, in her graduation gown and on that first day in her college dorm when I thought I could never, ever make it out the door. I did, of course, and thanks only to her roommate, now a famous photographer, there are photos of Nancy’s college years.

Invariably, as we sit on the floor near the open trunk, my husband and I get misty, even melancholy. The heart-smashing strength of our love for these daughters comes to the forefront as we point to this or that candid shot that begins a whole era flooding back.

We both still miss the crowded, noisy, wonderful years of kids sharing our home and our lives. Yes, still, even decades later. The silence of a place occupied by two adults nostalgic about the past can be deafening.


Read more Life Notes here.

March 2020
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