Snapshots to savor of times gone by
When Super Spouse says it’s time to clean out the old family photos, this husband salutes smartly and gets right to work.
Of course, the job soon vaults well beyond pictures. Each snapshot has a story to tell, as any shutterbug will gladly tell you.
So, more than once, I had to apologize to Super Spouse for going so slowly, because I had gotten lost in memories.
My gosh, that was me, at age 3, sitting behind the wheel of my parents’ 1948 Plymouth, decked out in a winter coat and fur hat, looking totally proud of myself.
Then, a series of summer snaps, dated 1941 — the women in short-sleeved dresses, the men with their suit coats off. Must have been a hot day. And a happy one.
There were my parents, looking young, slim and delighted. They had been married that afternoon in the back yard of my mother’s family home.
Dig, dig, dig some more…Choir recitals by each of our children, intense peewee soccer games, madly caloric birthday parties, at least six graduations.
And the pick of the litter: A close-up of Mama emerging from the back seat of our car. A bundle is in her arms. Our daughter, age three days, is coming home for the first time.
The daughter looks pink and perky. The Mama looks a little green from all she has just gone through. The father was green, too — with vertigo, wondering how in the world we were going to pay for all this.
Because I’m a lifelong journalist, trained to look beyond the obvious, I studied all those family faces for clues.
Was there something in my uncle’s eye that could have predicted his three marriages?
Did one grandfather look happier or portlier than the other?
Were there early signs of gray hair in my parents (they both ended up snowy white)?
Did my brother truly look like Howdy Doody, as I so often declared when we were young?
And why, oh why, did some unknown Kodak-wielder decide that every single scene, on every single family vacation, had to be memorialized?
In my eight hours of sifting through boxes, I saw more snow-topped mountains and more motel exteriors than any human should ever endure.
Did any of my relatives ever look at these pix once the corner drug store had developed the film? My hunch was no.
And now, no further need for a hunch. Into the trash went every nature scene from Vermont and every Dew Drop Inn somewhere in rural Utah.
Some archivists might call that decision misguided. I considered it a favor to succeeding generations.
They might want to know what my long-gone aunts and uncles looked like. They wouldn’t want a close-up of the brunch menu at some seaside rib joint in Santa Barbara, California.
About an hour in, I realized that I was looking at a hodgepodge. Some photos had been shot by my family. Some had been shot by say-cheese professionals. Some were carefully framed and lit. Some were badly out of focus.
But at least the family photogs who came before me were honest. Not every photo showed rows of happy, smiling cousins.
Sometimes the subjects looked bored. Sometimes they looked sleepy. Sometimes their eyes were closed when the shutter went click.
When I look at Facebook these days, some families never seem to have a bad second, much less a bad day. They are all giggles and mai-tais, all the time.
My family was far from perfect. The evidence is now spread all over the couch in the den, waiting for labeling and filing.
Just for fun, I created a couch-top time-tunnel montage of myself — snaps of little old me, starting from age nothing all the way up into my 60s.
The buzz haircut left at about age 10 (mercifully). The first beard came and went at 15 (had to prove I could grow one, right?). The shot of me playing basketball at age 40 is for the ages (if not the NBA).
Yes, my decline is obvious. Yes, I weighed at least 30 pounds less once upon a time.
Yes, I wish I could again speak to some of those family members. No, I don’t miss the smooches of my Aunt Betty at all (she was snapped in mid-kiss when I was about seven — I was obviously hating every second).
And yes, I am very glad I flipped my fingers down memory lane.
Photos sometimes fade and turn yellow. But it’s amazing how clearly one can recall everything — the smells, the weather, the music, the team that was in first place — from a little piece of shiny paper marked on the back with “Marvin’s wedding 1956.”
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.