Laughing ghosts and happy shadows. Photos are a blessing to the next generation, handed down in the form of a curse. Or vice versa. The last time I was home I found a box of photos in my Dad’s garage, and I looked at them with a heavy heart: more scanning.
Or not. I could do what lots of people do. Take the photo albums out of a box in the parents’ house, and put it in a box in your house. Let it sit there untouched, until eventually it gets moved to the attic.
Eventually they end up in the hands of descendants, and they’ll either put them in another box in another house, or decide some day that they don’t know who any of these people are. A few photos are saved because they look like they should be saved; a wedding, a Christmas - but they have no personal emotional attachment to the people in the pictures who were their ancestors, let alone the friends and cousins and nieces and neighbors who wandered into the frame, waved, and were nailed to the moment.
I never knew my great-grandparents, for example. As a child you can’t even imagine your grandparents as having parents. There are some pictures in my mother’s scrapbooks that must have been her grandparents; they walked out of 19th century daguerrotypes, dressed in severe black clothes from nape to foot. I knew her brother, of course; he was my uncle Myron, the lanky smiling hey-there-fella farmer we saw every Sunday and at all the family gatherings.
Then there’s Dick Mickelson. Dick and Donna. I heard the names growing up; they sent cards on my birth, and at Christmas. The names of her friends were like asteroids orbiting out beyond Pluto, part of our family cosmos, but impossibly remote. When I looked through the scrapbook I saw no one I knew except for my uncle, with a few shots of my Dad in sailor’s uniform, home on leave. In the first few shots, though, she was quite young - that’s her up there on the left at the schoolhouse, looking disconnected from the rest of the group. As far as I can tell the book goes from the early 40s through high school; everyone grows up.
But they looked quite grown-up to begin with. Look at those faces on the right. Those are from a series of tiny pictures of all her friends, arranged on a page - studio shots for school, perhaps, but still candid.
The pictures are small and blurry and usually shot at an angle. I can understand why she took the ones of her friends; they were over at the farm, playing with the dog, and she ran inside to get the camera and capture the moment. A shot of the farm in winter, I understand: she woke, saw the snow outside, and decided to capture the view from the landing upstairs. (I knew the house as a child, so I know where she stood to take the pictures.) But some shots are mystifying, like the car on the road, and the absence of any duplicates makes me wonder if she took more but selected these, or regarded film as such a rare thing that shooting something more than once would seem profligate.
When I turned the pictures over, by the way, I was surprised to see she tagged them. She knew who these people were. She never forgot. But there they were: the names of all her friends, written on the back.
In case anyone wanted to know. In case anyone wanted to remember on her behalf.