I need to tell you about a pretty powerful experience I had the other day. I didn't quite realize how powerful it was until about midway through the box. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was looking for a certain scrapbook, one my mom made for me when I graduated high school. Specifically, I was looking for pictures of my maternal grandparents home. It's been on my heart lately and I really wanted to see it again- the way I see it in my memories. Filled with cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Always someone around the kitchen table. I wanted to remember the smell. The feel of that old farmhouse table under my fingertips.
But as I pulled out that old tote covered in tape and stickers from various moves, it evolved into an entirely different journey. Memories began pouring back to me, flooding my brain.
I called my kids over to see pictures from my very first Disney trip 21 years ago, to see the dog I grew up with, to see my grandparents- great grandparents they never got to meet. I showed them my first car, my middle school BFF (I also explained to them that I could literally smell the Bath & Body Works Cucumber Melon through the picture and they couldn't understand why we would want to smell like that), and what my nephew looked like as a baby. I showed them pictures of trips that my husband and I went on before we had kids! We came across pictures of loved ones who are no longer with us. With bitter sweet tears in my eyes, I was able to honor their memory by telling the story behind the picture.
I showed them pictures of my mom and dad, before they were Gigi and Poppa.
I found pictures from a vacation I didn't ever remember taking.
Can we think about that for a minute? I must've been about 16 in the pictures. That was only 17 years ago. I didn't remember taking the vacation (it was a cruise). Nothing. The part that floored me is that BOTH of my grandmothers went on the cruise with me- my maternal and paternal grandmothers. And I forgot about the entire trip. I can't get over that. I only halfway remembered because I saw myself in the pictures. I'm only 33 and my memory failed me-severely.
Another thing I noticed again and again, there wasn't many pictures of me and my mom. Because so many times, moms are tasked with being the family historian, the memory catcher. But that's another topic for another post...
This magical afternoon of traveling down memory lane wouldn't ever have happened if I hadn't pulled out that tote. None of this would've happened if there hadn't been actual, physical prints in that tote. I don't know when those stories or memories would've come up. I don't know when my kids would've heard them.
There is great power in holding an actual print in your hands.
Holding a memory. A legacy.
The digital images tucked away on a CD or hard drive don't have that kind of power. And as I found out, our memory can fail us- mine certainly did.
I'm forever grateful for that tote of memories. I'm thankful for the physical reminders of our past.
Document your days.
Leave a legacy for the generations after you.
Print the pictures.
Frame and hang them.
Keep them safe.
Trust me when I say that if you think pictures are valuable now, just wait 15 years. Priceless.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.