My Obsession With Photos

This weekend, Aaron and I spent an afternoon with his Dad and brother. We went out to lunch, then spent a few hours just talking at their Dad’s house.

Of course, me being such a sucker for photos, and being curious about Aaron’s family, I started off the requisite photo album viewing by declaring, “I want to see pictures of Fat Grammie!” (Referring, of course, to the brief period of time in the early 1970s when Aaron’s grandmother was quite overweight. She went on Weight Watchers and lost it all, and kept it off over the years.)

We ended up looking though nearly a dozen photo albums from the late ’60s and the ’70s, and I got to see not only Fat Grammie, but Poppa with a beard, and Baby Aaron at two weeks — and Aaron’s mother, who passed away just about five years before I met him. I kept being amazed by the people and places I was seeing in these photos — “Wow, you really do look like your mother,” and, “Is that the same rocking chair that’s still at Grammie and Poppa’s house?” and just looking over toward the kitchen to be sure that the linoleum in that photo from 1978 is really the same linoleum that’s still there today.

It wasn’t until then that I realized why I have such an obsession with photos, and candid, unposed shots in particular.

They’re a time capsule.

My family moved around quite a bit when I was growing up. Not as much as my Mom did when she was growing up, and certainly not as much as military families, but I didn’t live in one place for more than three or four years at a time. I can remember six different homes from age four through high school (not counting the move my Sophomore year from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom in the same complex).

When you move that much, and on such a tight budget as we had, some things are going to be left behind. Small things, mainly, but memorable ones. The mugs I got as rewards for selling Girl Scout cookies (including the Cookie Safari mug from ’86) got left in Florida when we couldn’t fit everything into the small U-Haul trailer. The vintage ’70s Christmas ornaments, plus all my “milestone” ornaments (like the plaster hand cast I made in kindergarten, 1981) were victims of my aunt’s ill-fated move to Carolina, when she got swindled on her new house and had to leave her entire U-Haul truck behind when she returned to Ohio. Who knows what other forgotten treasures are in a landfill or a Goodwill somewhere in Medina, or Florida, or Carolina?

One thing we always made sure to bring with us, though, were the photo albums. They contained family pictures of me, my Mom, my Memaw, and my Aunt Sammie; baby pictures of me; snapshots of Mom when she was super-skinny in the ’70s; images that connected us to our past. Pictures of my ballet recitals — even more precious since the trunks that held my costumes got left behind somewhere. Pictures of my pet parakeet that had to be left with friends because he was getting too old to move again (supposedly). Portrait after portrait after portrait that my aunt took by that one tree in the park on Bayshore Boulevard.

Memaw and Diana, 1984

They anchor me. They bring me back to my roots, to where I came from.

I don’t have a house I can point to and say, “That was my home for 19 years.” But I do have photos that I can point to and say, “I remember that.” And when I look at Aaron’s family pictures, it helps me see where his family has come from.

I hope that I’m documenting the small things, the ordinary things, as well as the “big” things, well enough that my kids and grandkids will be able to see where they came from.

And ogle at Aaron with a full beard, way back in 2007.