Something happened to my family after my mother passed away.
My parents were from a generation of savers, and my mother far outdid my dad with saving things. They lived in the same home for 70 years. They raised their 11 children. They became grandparents. My mother had many reasons and opportunities to stash a lot of stuff away.
Dad was fairly organized with his tools and things he needed to keep. Mom not so much. She had boxes of newspaper clippings, memorial cards, greeting cards, grade cards, and just about anything you can save.
As I sorted through Mom’s estate, I was finding envelopes containing old film negatives. The photos were no longer in the envelopes. Just the film negatives. As my collection of envelopes grew, and I needed to find a larger box, I decided to hold one of the negatives up to a light. I could see the image of a Christmas tree. There were children sitting on the floor and wooden toys in front of them. I didn’t remember having seen this photo.
As you can imagine, I made arrangements to visit a photographer friend of mine to see if he could put those little brown negatives on a computer file for us.
That is when something happened.
Imagine in front of you: a picture of yourself as a baby in your dad’s arms. Black-and-white photos from a bygone era. Photos you’ve never seen before. One after another. Images of your older siblings doing the things children do. Funny things. Kids. Everywhere.
And those wooden toys my dad made – there they were in never-been-played-with-condition.
As I scrolled through the collection of photos, I felt a bit of emotion stirring within me. One new picture after another overwhelming me with each click on the screen.
Where were these photos for the last 40 or 50 years? Why am I looking at them now?
I remember the slow travel of tears down the sides of my face as I scrolled from one picture frame to the next. If the images could speak, they would have said, “Well if you think this one is good, wait until you see the next one.”
I wanted to go ahead with a great big cry. A super good cry. Maybe even plop my head onto the desk and sob. But I couldn’t. I had Friday night dinner plans, so a two-issue kind of cry had to suffice; no time for crying before heading out the door.
I returned home that evening to finish perusing through the photos and found a picture of my Grandpa Imm holding a bullfrog in his hand. Just what I needed to finish a blog story I’d planned on posting the next morning.
In the days that followed, the sharing of the photos began, and it made me realize every family is simply a group of people who speak the same language. Who are interested in the same old photos of aunts and uncles, old cars, back porches, and farms where we played as children.
Cousins know what it feels like to be a cousin. To have another home where they feel fairly comfortable hanging out. To have an uncle who looks a lot like their own dad. The feeling doesn’t leave when you get older. The cousin feeling is still there.
My dad took pictures of his family just being a family. He even captured a photo of his children’s dirty feet.
The snapshots of Mom – what was she doing looking like that?
The photos of the back yard were proof my father knew what he was doing when it came to gardening. Summertime meant Mom was serving meals and canning food with produce from the garden. There was always plenty left over for Dad to share with others. He was known for his homegrown tomatoes, and he didn’t hesitate in giving them away. He even grew popcorn and popped a lot of batches of sugar corn. Neighborhood kids knew what a slice of salted kohlrabi tasted like.
It was decades ago when Dad pushed the button on his Duraflex camera. He didn’t know he was taking a snapshot in time that was more than just your ordinary snapshot in time. He didn’t know it would be more than a half-century later when his children would see most of the images for the first time. Who arranges things like that?
Looking back on it, I realize Mom was just packing things into boxes with intentions of dealing with it later. She told us we were going to have our hands full when we sorted through her estate. We knew there were boxes of memorabilia waiting on us, but we didn’t know we would one day refer to them as time capsules.
Film negatives. Something so simple. Something you can hold in your hand. Just an inanimate object. Incapable of anything. Yet capable of making something happen.