Monday, August 18, 2014

Family Heirlooms

Gram giving dad a bath in 1959.  My uncle is smiling in the left corner.

I took a little unintended break from posting.  My parents were visiting from Florida, and I underestimated how much I would want to spend every second with them, or going through the boxes of treasures they brought with them, or recovering from combing through old pictures and reliving memories that don't come up that often.

Baby me in 1986

My father died when I was 12.  My paternal grandmother, already fragile, never really recovered.  My paternal grandfather was close to my family until the day he died two years ago, even after my mother remarried and we all moved away.  My uncle gave us access to some of my Gram's belongings because she is living in a nursing home and can't split things up, and my mother came to Massachusetts with pictures, letters, and toys that were my father's as a boy.  I spent several mornings running around on adventures with my mom and the boys, followed by afternoons faced with this overwhelming pile of pictures, handmade cards, yearbooks, years of courting correspondence, Boy Scout honors...memories dating from 1929 to 1997.  Pictures of my dad as a baby, myself as a baby.  My grandparents in high school.  My parents as newlyweds on vacation.  Unknown relatives that toured the country with an expensive camera in the first part of the last century.

The Kauffman girls on Halloween.  Probably 1995?  I'm the sullen princess, top right.

I'm surprised at how emotionally difficult it was to look at all these pictures, with my mother and alone.  I cried and said out loud that I wonder if my (conservative, christian) dad would like (liberal, religionless) me now.  I said I wish I could have a beer with him.  We'd watch the Simpsons together.  I don't have any signs or dream visits or feelings that my dad is watching me.  When I used to waitress, if a customer gave me a certain smile, or seemed warmer than average towards me, I'd tell myself that it was my dad coming to check on me.  I didn't feel like it was the truth, but it was a nice idea, and it made me happy to imagine what I would look like to him.  Looking at all the pictures of his childhood made me miss my dad in a way I don't usually let myself.  I wondered what kind of grandfather he'd be, and what advice he would give me, and got mad that he missed my wedding.  I held his little metal cars and felt a thrill that I was holding something he had held.  I hated myself for losing the letters he wrote me when I was at summer camp.

Dick and Doris.  Probably late 70s.

The thing that struck me while looking through all the family memories was the sameness of life.  Most people are just finding someone to be with, putting together a home, trying to raise a family.  Making it all look good in pictures.   Pushing things under the rug, or confronting them head on. Every family has sticky dynamics, secrets poorly kept, sickness and sadness as a part of their legacy.  Everyone with kids wants a picture of them in the bath, on the swing.  Life feels so personal and specific when you're living it, but it's a much bigger experience.  You're not the first, or the last.  The pictures of my dad cooing at my baby cousin remind me of my brother-in-law doting on his nephews.  Seeing my Gram give a very Milo-looking infant a bath is like looking at my own Instagram feed.  We're in a set cycle.  I don't think it's a bad thing.

My dad and Gram looking fresh in the late 70s.

I guess the point is take lots of pictures so your future great grandchildren can roll around in the riches of decades of your birthday cakes and vacations and first days of school.  Print out the snapshots and write the names and dates on the back.  Save your birthday cards and love notes and mixed cds and ticket stubs. Use an online service to make scrapbooks.  There will relatives of yours who will spend afternoons piecing together a history from your shoe boxes overflowing, and whether the story is happy or sad, it will be yours, and theirs, and it will live on.

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At August 20, 2014 at 9:19 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

I love this post! I love looking through old pictures and hope that I can print enough of mine to piece together a story for my kids and grandkids.

At August 22, 2014 at 10:28 AM , Anonymous stephanie, sandpaper & glue said...

great post! my mother in law was actually up a week ago and brought a whole box of old pictures with her too--- it's incredible to look through the past in one big bucket. and it made me text my brother to for goodness sake print out some of my nephew's pictures so they don't all get lost in iphone-land.

At August 23, 2014 at 6:25 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

Oh, so fun! I love looking through Ben's old pictures, and his mom was great about saving them. I also need to go through my email and drag the Shutterfly deals out of spam, because you can usually get 100s of prints for super cheap/free on the regular. Got to save the snaps of that cute nephew :)

At August 23, 2014 at 6:26 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

I hope there is some way for our families to eventually scroll through our digital memories, but there is nothing like a good pile of physical prints :) Thanks for reading!

At August 26, 2014 at 12:22 AM , Blogger Erica Layne | Let Why Lead said...

This was beautiful. I could really imagine why you would not let yourself go down that road (of missing him, imagining him) very often, but it sounds meaningful and therapeutic having just dug through all of these old scenes. Definitely makes me value life and those around me! Thanks for that.


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