Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Remember to forget



When my mother died in 2012, I brought back a couple of plastic bins full of old photos, papers and other miscellaneous stuff.  Some of the photos were one's mom had pasted into poster sized frames and hung on the walls. Many were sun damaged and hard to make out. But I couldn't bear throwing them away.

I ended up consolidating all of the items into one large bin that has sat in my garage for almost 11 years. In the process of unpacking other items stored from our recent remodel I ran across the bin and started going through it. I decided to try and rescue most of the old photos by scanning them and using Photoshop. This worked for most of them, but a few were beyond saving. Some just weren't great photos to begin with. My mother was always a click and shoot photographer and generally only took photos on holidays and occasions when family visited. The faded, blurry image above is one of my brothers and I dressed to go to Sunday School. Our dog Shep is in the forground presumeably staring at my mother taking the photo.

It has been a trip going through these photos because they brought back a lot of memories. Some captured images of kitchens and living rooms in my grandmother's and my parent's houses. They were like time capsules. Both houses are long gone. But I was amazed how well I remembered them.

There were some great class photos from the one-room school house my mother attended before high school. They were faded, torn black and white images of children who grew up, had families and have long since died. This included my mother and two of her brother, one of who survived World War II in Guam and came home to die in a small airplane crash in his early 20s.

My mother had listed out the names of the kids under the photos. One of the photos had a portion of a girl in the top row torn out. I was determined to restore it. So I did a search online and found a photo of her when she was middle aged (she died in her mid-70s). The face had aged, but the smile was unmistakenly hers. So I worked Photoshop magic and did a fair job of reconstructing her young face using parts of her middle aged photo. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein and fought the urge to yell, "She's alive, alive!"

It struck me that, other than the photos of my brothers and cousins, most of the people in the photos weren't alive. But I felt strangely like part of them was. 

As part of my journey to restore old photographs, I uncovered a bunch of photos of my father's Navy career in World War II. Other than the formal portraits he sent home to his parents I liked the one's he had taken and labeled of the friends he made while serving on a Torpedo Tender. I also liked the photos of him out with friends at a night club called "The Tradewinds" in Washington D.C. in 1943. All of the photographs gave me a window into a part of my father's life that I knew very little about. But to him it must have been a pivotal time. Other than a brief time growing up in Oregon, he'd spent his entire life in Idaho. Going to the East Coast and eventually sailing through the Panama Canal must have been amazing for him.

What struck my more than anything was how different photographs have become now. We pull out our phone at the drop of a hat and capture everything including a photo of a meal we had for breakfast.  They start to lose meaning. My son won't even pose for photos anymore because he has been photographed so much of his life.  But I grew up with long stretches of no record of the changes in my life and appearances beyond school photos and random birthdays.

I post many of the photos I find on Ancestry, trying to put faces to many of people I'm related to but don't really know. Some are still living, but I have so many cousins because I have so many aunts and uncles that we are all strangers. I just know names. At least the photos I've uncovered put faces with the names even though they are 30 and 40 years out of date.

I do find my philosophy regarding memories has altered now that I am well into old age. Some things I choose not to remember and I think it is for the best. It's not that I want to gloss over my past, but I just think there are parts of it that it is better not to dwell on. This is especially true for things that happened that I have no control of or I'd rather not relive. I'm okay with photos of me standing in my childhood backyard holding a guinea pig at aged 10. But I'd rather not dwell on the sadness of burying the same do Shep pictured in the Sunday School photo above after he'd been killed by a car. 

Some things are better to remember to forget.

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