If you are friends with me on FB, or follow me on Instagram, you are probably relieved that my political anxiety has given way to a trip down memory lane. Or maybe you are already weary of the old family photos and memories we’ve dug up from the boxes being dragged in from the garage or pulled out of the upstairs closets.
Let me start by saying every summer is the summer of something. Because that’s just how we roll. Last summer was the summer of the kitchen remodel. We spent endless hours looking at quartz and tile and cabinets. The summer before that was the summer of the coffee table — or maybe it was the lamp — so much of it fades in and out of my memory. But every summer involves a project. Either a home improvement project or a personal project, but a project nonetheless. And because my son is who he is, every summer is also the summer of cars: car shows, car museums, car cruises, tours of private collections, always there are cars. This is, after all, LA and he is, after all, completely obsessed.
So while there have already been a significant number of car events, and a few little things that in years past may have qualified for greater status, I am officially declaring this summer the summer of old family photos. The boxes have been sorted and the photos separated into stacks by decades, old frames have been discarded, blurry scenery shots from family vacations have been tossed, and we are now — finally — left with the task of figuring out a new and improved storage system.
When I think about what we carry, the things that matter and the things that don’t, I am overwhelmed by what all these hundreds of images represent. My mother’s childhood, my childhood, my son’s childhood. It’s all there. In color and in black and white. Some images have faded to a grayish green, others are damaged and torn, but all take a moment — a heartbeat, a pulse — and hold it, frozen in time. I look into my eyes at 18 months or five years old and I search for the memory. Do I really remember that dress or that toy or that house, or does it exist for me only because it’s been captured in a photograph?
A stack of photos is all I have left of people I loved; someday it will be all that’s left of me. There is honor and truth in these images. And they deserve to be thoughtfully preserved. Where we remember a date or an event or a face, it is written on the back. Where there is damage, we do our best to restore, even though that often means creating an entirely new photograph out of the old one. We have spent hours sorting and remembering. I have felt again the love of my grandparents and suffered through my awkward years. I have been reminded that my mother was (and is) unbelievably cool — a composite of Liz Taylor, Marlo Thomas and Donna Reed. My grandmother regal and coiffed, always photographed in a beautiful dress, her jewelry just right, her lipstick perfect.
I have seen again that I come from a long line of strong and capable women. And the world being what it is today, I am grateful to be reminded of that fact. I come from a family of immigrants. Of people who came to this country with nothing and created a legacy of hard work and success. I come from a place where the land rises and falls in mountains and valleys as it rolls out to meet the Pacific, where the light is golden, and the warm winds blow across the desert.
This is the summer I hold my history in my hands. It is the summer of old photos and memories, people and places that have come and gone. It is the summer of all that I know and all that I have loved. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking. And yet forever mine.