A Picture Is NOT Worth A Thousand Words

No matter how cute, photos in the family album need a story. 

 

No matter how cute, photos in the family album need a story.

 

Browsing through an antique store, I came across an old photo album filled with snapshots of a family who once lived near a beach. California? Florida? The pictures focused on two girls, maybe seven, who might have been sisters. Besides seeing the two of them over and over again, I saw a house with a palm tree, a Chevrolet station wagon, and a dog that looked at the girls, never at the camera. A seemingly happy family from the 1950s was my best guess, but how had their pictures had ended up in an antique shop with a price tag on them—cheap. We grow tired of chairs and china cabinets. We remodel our houses and find old couches no longer fit new lifestyles. However, we usually hang on to our pictures, no matter what. 

 Next, I wondered who would buy a book of old family pictures.

Someone who had assumed a new identity? Maybe, someone in the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Protection Program I told myself in overly dramatic undertones. In that case, adding an old album to the décor would be like saying, “See, I have old photos. I am a genuine person with a real past.” Of course, if anyone took that seriously and asked about the pictures, a story would have to be invented. 

That’s what I was doing, while I was standing there, making up a story because a family photo is worthless without a memory. And that, I suspected, was the real reason the album had been given away. No one remembered the stories. 

As I continued to thumb through the pages, it was hard not to notice the way each picture had been carefully mounted under clear plastic covers. Someone had valued the pictures, had wanted to keep them secure. They were secure in the album, but they’d slipped life.

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6 Comments

Filed under Family Photos, Family Stories, Uncategorized

6 responses to “A Picture Is NOT Worth A Thousand Words

  1. Ah, yes, family photos–whether ours or someone else’s–are a bittersweet journey. And for each family member taking the trip down memory lane, the plot twists and turns, high points and low, resentments and competitions, sweetness and love, are all different. The great thing about OTHER people’s family photos (especially if they aren’t there narrating every one) is that you can imagine the story that seems right to you or evokes your OWN family life.

  2. Jerrie,

    My husband and I once bought a baby book at an antiques store. It clearly belonged to someone in my mother’s generation. It was marked $18 and I recall thinking that I really didn’t have $18 to spend on the baby book of someone I didn’t know. But I just couldn’t let it stay in that antiques shop. There was something heartbreaking about a life that seemed tossed aside. So we bought the book. There are gorgeous old photos in it, letters (at least one to St. Nick), locks of hair, and other bits and pieces that tell me this person was loved.

    And yet the baby book was tossed aside.

    It still breaks my heart.

    Melanie

  3. Exactly how I felt. Only I didn’t actually buy the book. Good for you.

  4. alycebarry

    I’m reminded of another kind of person seeking a new identity: the pathological liar, like Goldie Hawn’s character in “Housesitter” with Steve Martin.

    My mother put an enormous amount of work into the photo albums she created of our family, writing captions, some of them humorous ones I didn’t understand until I was older. (There was a reference to Bunberry, which I didn’t understand until I’d seen Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest.”) I also poured time and effort into photo albums while my daughter was growing up. Today I hardly know what to do with paper photos.

  5. I have two large cardboard boxes of old photographs that I rescued when I cleaned out the house of an aunt who died. This aunt — one of the last of my parents’ generation — was the widow of my late mother’s late brother. She had no children. I have no idea who those people are — my long-gone blood relatives or hers? I can’t bear just to throw them away, so there they languish on top of a closet. I’ll wager some day my son will toss them — or sell them to an antique dealer.

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