Faded photos, vivid memories

Elise T. Chisolm

October 15, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

IT HAD TO BE done during days on which I couldn't get out. I had intended to do it on a snowy day last winter, but the snow wasn't enough to keep me in. I promised the children -- and myself -- I'd do it when I was trapped at home, home alone. Finally an all-day rain has come along.

I'm at the dining room table with the project spread out before me. For at least 25 years I have been meaning to take the old photos out of the tired album and remount them in a new book. I'm talking old here -- me and the album with its yellow pages.

Some of the photos date back to the early 1900s. Some are bruised at the edges, some are torn. They are indeed my photos from the edge.

Now I will re-caption them and put them back between the slick new plastic pages that will preserve them for our family.

I thought the project would take a day; it has taken five afternoons of glimpses from the past. I thought the task might be fun, but it hasn't been.

Most of the people are smiling, as people do for picture-taking, but for the most part the older people who are smiling are now gone.

Here's my mother's sister Nancy in a party dress; she looks to be 14. I remember my mother telling me that she died of scarlet fever when she was 16.

My mother kept the photograph because, she said, I looked like her. I did.

I cry and then I smile, intermittently.

Here's a picture of my father and his four brothers in World War I uniforms. They are getting ready to go off to war.

How did my grandparents stand the multiple goodbyes that year? They are all smiling, but my grandmother is probably crying while she takes the picture.

The oldest picture seems to be my husband's parents' wedding, 1916. Her dress has come back in style, his suit hasn't.

Here's a picture of my husband's siblings. And many photos of his sister Gladys, so blond, so vivacious and so pretty. She is laughing into the camera, she is 17. She died at 23.

We were friends.

My tears again. The memories are flooding back.

There's a lot of war here. We seem to go from one war to another, as if they were timed cyclically.

There are pictures of our wedding in Tacoma, and pictures of my uniformed husband in World War II. Here he is aboard ship, here he's at a ship's commissioning and here's a shot of his three ship roommates, from whom we still hear.

I smile.

There are hundreds of pictures of our firstborn: first smile, first tooth and first steps.

Then the next three children -- there are fewer and fewer pictures. That happens. We got too busy raising them all to photograph every step along the way. Too bad. We skip from a wonderful picture of my second with his first bike to a picture of him in his first tuxedo.

Ah, here's a picture of our youngest son in 1962 with two friends, giggling and sitting in a new red wagon. They are 5 years old.

And now I am awash in tears of remembrance.

The little girl on the far right died a month later of a brain tumor.

I wonder if her parents have this picture. Should I send it on to them? No, it is for my children to look at, so they will be ever mindful of our temporal lives.

Friends, family, faces -- the photo album is an exercise in recall. Photos reflect life and death, joy and sadness. My task is over.

The experience has been like looking in a tinted mirror, sepia-toned and blurred with emotion.

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