In the slow and sometimes fast shift that is life, the remaining people in my family have moved, or are moving. I say remaining, because we at Smith family central have, at this point, buried more of us than there are still alive. I learned about death very young, and she’s been present in my life far too frequently since then. In fact, I’m named after my maternal grandfather, who died while I was in utero. I first did the math on this as a child, realizing that he knew about me, but didn’t live to see me.
But death, (another kind of moving) aside, families shift and change. My sister and her husband and their two bright-blue-eyed kids moved a little over a year ago from NY to San Francisco, and I went to NY to help with some packing. And some purging. We tossed things that had been purchased, gifted, made, that had been stored in boxes at her house (or my mother’s) since our grandfather’s death.
One of the items we couldn’t get rid of without first looking through all of them was slides. We tried to keep a representative sample, anything we’d never seen before, or didn’t know about, or simply wanted to remember. There were snaps of us as kids, of our parents when they were way younger than we are now.
My sister (or I) would flip through the slides in a projector on my mother’s kitchen peninsula, projecting them on a wall, and later in the office, saying “keep” or “toss” as we went through. If anyone wanted to keep something, it was kept. If we both said “toss,” out it went. You may think this is harsh and horrible and unfeeling. But my niece and nephew or whoever comes after me will one day do the same with my possessions, or will simply reformat my hard drives full of photos, or recycle them in some space-age recycling scheme I haven’t even heard of yet.
As we went through the photos, a strange pattern emerged. It wasn’t just the photos where we knew someone, or where we saw ourselves. There was this whole series of photos that I kept on saying “keep” to. My sister caught what was going on, and started to say “keep” to them, too. On my behalf.
Most of the photos were taken by my father and my grandfather. Presumably often with a Yashica or Minolta that now sit in the camera area of my office (don’t judge), jammed, but hopefully not unfixable. My father and grandfather are firmly on the other side of the life-death divide, my father having died 30 years ago, and my grandfather six years ago. It is a terrible thing for a man to bury his wife and two children, and after my aunt died, my grandfather just gave up, leaving boxes of slides and years of memories behind.
Among the slides were these “keeps.” These “I need thems.” I didn’t know why I needed them until I got to this one:
And I knew. The reason I needed these slides was because I could have taken them myself. In fact, you might say I did.
Scene after scene, curving road after stark mountains, I kept on seeing pictures I could have taken. Shots I’d never seen before, taken by hands that never taught me how to hold a camera, how to shoot, where to focus.
And yet, the same.
And if you’ll forgive me a little nostalgia and misunderstanding of genetics and waxing coincidental, let me just say: de tal palo, tal astilla (Spanish equivalent of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”)
Trees, indeed. Leaves, too.
I think this is possibly my favourite post of yours ever.
thanks. It’s actually part of a series I’m supposed to be writing, but life gets in the way. Thanks very much!
How beautiful, Eileen!!
Best post ever!
Thanks so much, Layfan!
I never knew either of my grandfathers. I’m so glad that you have these treasured remembrances. Beautiful photos, Eileen.
My grandfather who may or may not have taken the photo, was a kindred spirit. I was lucky to have him for as long as I did, but it wasn’t enough. Before he got sick and when I was moving to Chile, he took me aside and said, “take me with you.” I think he was kidding.
Thanks for commenting!
There are loads of ‘photo a day’, ‘dear photo’, ‘365fotos’ type of things out there. They are cool. But my favourites are always the fotos like the ones you said ‘keep’ to. And your [almost] diptych is gorgeous.
I think it might be time to get those analogue cameras filled with rolls of films
And I bet your grandfather wasn’t kidding…
the photo of a slide thing I did didn’t really do it justice. I should take a better shot of it. The colors are better and it is in better focus, though not as crisp as my version, with the fancy digitalness and auto focus. We’ve got to get those cameras up and running, and think about the pinhole project.
thanks for commenting. We should do an old-fashioned slide show sometime!
Oh, I just love this. What a wonderful feeling.
This comment, especially from you, makes me think. Thanks. One day maybe we’ll talk about it. Or not. 🙂
Stunning story – lots of food for thought with what you learned. Think I’ll take the afternoon now to ponder, reflect, and wonder.
Thanks, Maria. Very kind of you to say. I’ve been needing to write this for a while. Thanks to all of you for indulging me!
How lovely – it’s quite uncanny how similar those two photos are! I’d love to see some more of the slides.
I would love to scan them and take the time to find the photos that look the same, but I think it will be a slow process! Do you have old slides or photos from yesterwhenever as well? Maybe we should all post them! Hope BA is treating you right, btw!
My parents have some great photos of my grandparents in snazzy outfits, posting them has to be added to the list of projects when go back for Christmas!
BA’s excellent thanks, hope all’s well in Chile.
ooh, hope to see some of that snazz when you get a chance! Any inspiration for future clothing design?
Beautiful. This one gave me the chills. Forgive the cliche comment on a piece that is anything but.
thanks for being cliché resistant, Jenn! I appreciate the sentiment and trust that it comes from a very uncliché place in your heart. Thank you!
You know the misunderstanding of genetics flows to your neicelet, too… though it seems to come from both sides in her case. She has a really cool pinhole camera she made in camp, too…
would love to see what she’s working on, maybe she could show me on skype sometime! look for me tomorrow PM btw re: skype, but before 7 your time (12 midnight here!). Will coordinate better on FB or mail.
Absolutely beautiful. (Amateur) photography runs in my family, too, and you’ve made me think deeply about things I’ve seen in shoeboxes and 1970s photo albums in the past. How amazing for you to find this connection that was hiding until now.
Thanks, and yes, it freaks me out every time! And I love it. I want to get them all properly scanned (the slides) sometime.
qué hermoso, Eileen.
Thanks, Cari. 🙂
I love the idea that we have an inherited aesthetic, but I can’t help but wonder where in the hell mine came from. Such a lovely post, thanks for the idea to ponder.
Thanks Kelly. “Inherited aesthetic” was a much shorter way to say what it took a whole blogpost to reveal. But that’s the fun in it, isn’t it? Thanks for dropping by to tell me the post gave you something to think about. What a great compliment!
Yes! I know this is painful material, Eileen, but this combines your talents so well. Thanks for posting this and for telling my non-RSS reading ass to read it. <3
Thanks, Kate! Really thanks. Big ones. And I don’t read an RSS either! Poor, sad, neglected RSS feed. Hope we get to see each other, soon! Maybe BA this summer? (such a delight in summer!)