In 2002, my husband and I got our first digital camera.
After my activity of the last couple of weeks, I am looking at our lives before that year as an enormous slog through boxes of faded memories.
My mother and I hatched a plan a few months ago to scan all of our family photos. She ordered a handy little scanner that sucks the photo through and saves it directly on a memory card. It’s not the highest quality, but we knew that convenience was going to be a huge factor in whether we ever got the job done.
The scanner arrived, she put it away, and that was that. Until we decided that this time, we wouldn’t put it off.
We have a long history of saying that we’re going to “do something with all those photos.” My mother depended on me for the impetus, as I am the only avid scrapbooker in the family. Or rather, was. Curiously, the further into the digital age we went, the less avid my scrapbooking became. Now I share photos online and occasionally send prints to my kids’ paternal grandmother, but otherwise, I don’t print unless I want it on the wall.
But back in the day of analog, not only did I print but I also got free doubles. I made many copies for family and friends. I kept any photo someone sent me, along with programs from concerts I’d been to, postcards I’d received, random scribbles on paper that have no meaning now.
So over the holidays, we started The Big Push to digitize our lives. At first, it seemed easy and was even pleasurable. I loved really looking at all the photos from my childhood, seeing our cats of yesteryear, remembering days at the lake. Sometimes I find that I have an actual remembrance of the day. Often, I find something in the background of a photo that sparks a memory.
The pleasure, however, only goes on so long before the pain hits: Another failed relationship. Ouch. That friend I haven’t called in years. Ouch. The crick in my neck and down my right shoulder from feeding the photos in endlessly, monotonously.
It is, however, overall a pleasurable experience. I laughed out loud when I pulled a photo of me out of the pile and wondered why it was so faded, then realized that it was my mother in the photo, not me. It’s fascinating to look at my mother’s boxes of old family photos and see the generations unfolding backwards: My mother as a teen, looking an awful lot like my older sister. My mother’s aunt as a girl, showing her Native American ancestry in a chance angle caught by the camera. My mother’s great-grandmother, a quarter Native American and probably rather unusual with her black hair and eyes amongst the blue-eyed Pennsylvania Dutch who were her people. (Her father was an orphan adopted by a Pennsylvania Dutch family.) And more and more people in swimming costumes, standing in front of my grandparents’ house, unidentified.
There are lots and lots of babies. My sister’s son wins the prize in our generation for most photos—he had the great luck of going to a family wedding at a few months old, and everyone took photos and sent them to my mom.
One of my favorite finds was a series of three prints, all of the same shot: an angry-looking baby in a hospital bassinet. On the back of one of the copies, my mother had written “Suki” in relatively recent-looking ink. But deep down in the box I found the same photo with faded ball-point ink on the back identifying the angry baby as my younger brother, with details that were clearly written at the time of birth.
“See?” I said to my mom. “I was right. There are NO baby pictures of me and you just wrote ‘Suki’ on that one to appease me!” Actually, I do appear as a baby in snapshots, but my formal hospital photo seems to be gone, probably because my baby self was red-faced and yelling, “It’s developmentally inappropriate to place a new-born baby in a cold bassinet!! Bring me to my mother and let her swaddle me this instant!”
Darn nurses probably didn’t want my mom to see that photo.
My mom’s coming over this afternoon with, she promises, more treasures. The application form my Italian great-grandparents filled out to become American citizens. More photos of babies, no doubt, and of friends, relatives, and passersby who have lost their names but left their images, yellowing and faded, for us to enjoy and try to preserve.