Thursday, March 22, 2012

Memories We Never Had

What do you do with old photos? I have quite a few in all kinds of condition; stuck in paper bags, plastic bins, stuck between the pages of books in the hope of flattening them out. I've been meaning to get all the "really good ones" scanned in and digitally cleaned up or repaired. Somehow other things always become more important.

Those old pictures are more than just pieces of paper. They are memories; in many cases they are memories we never had. What I mean is that some of them are portals into a world I never knew or to people I knew but as an older, more world-weary version than the one in the picture. With digital cameras everywhere now and the ability to share them instantaneously it's easy to forget that those pixels represent a moment in time we want to remember - at least in that moment we think we do. But the old photos are not backed up anywhere they are as prone to disappearing as a real memory until they are scanned.

So there are a couple of old family treasures that I've scanned in or asked relatives to scan and send to me. Then I take the time to open them in Photoshop Elements and do my best to clean them up, enhance them a little and back them up. Just in case. These are not my pictures, in most cases I wasn't even born when they were taken. But they are every bit as special to me as the absolute best photos I've ever taken: more so.

Antonio and Margarita Perez
The picture with this post is of my grandparents on my dad's side. I'm not sure of the date but I would guess it was sometime in the late 1940s or very early 1950s. My dad would have been around 10 years old or so. My grandfather, Antonio, looks very much like I remember him in the late 1960s and until he died in 1972. He spoke mostly Spanish at home although his English was passable. Margarita, my grandmother, looks familiar but by the time I remember her hair was mostly grey and she was much more "weathered." Her face was one of the kindest I have ever seen. She lived into her 90s and died in the late 1990s. Between them they had twelve children, eight boys and four girls. I had so many cousins I literally couldn't remember all of their names. I think at last count, for first and second cousins only we were over 100.

The memories that this one picture brings back to me are amazing. A picture that was taken more than a decade before I was born has the power to evoke memories of people, places and events that aren't even a part of the picture. The stories that I heard as a child about my grandparents are etched into their faces and all of my stories and the stories of a hundred cousins are all continuations of those same stories.

Look around you for those old treasured pictures. Take the time to scan them in, fix them up just a little (unless they are really damaged), look closely at them and remember. Then pass on the pictures, the memories and your stories.


WildlifeBernie said...

Our photos are stored in a Tupperware container or are on slides in a cardboard box. Yes, I should scan and save, too, but as you said, time is so little. Many of our photos are not written on so I am dependant on my mom's memory. What would happen if she passed? The information and stories would be lost. I think I will sit down with her and make a plan to go thru our photos and slides 2 hours every weekend until done. Thanks Charlie!

Steve Bates said...

Among the family photo albums I inherited is one my father took during W.W.II, shots of his shipmates presumably on their way to Normandy. Some of the pics have last names scribbled beside them; more of them are unlabeled. What to do? At present I don't have a working scanner, and I know none of those people even from Dad's stories about them. I suppose they'll stay stored in a cabinet in the den with all my old photos, where I pull everything out about every 10 years for a nostalgia trip. As you say, it's not even my nostalgia.