We sat around a table at the senior center last week passing around photos for a writing exercise. I was a stranger in this group that meets every week. I had come to check out the visiting writing teacher. My seat faced a wall-sized mirror, so I was looking at myself all the time, feeling too young and overdressed for this group.
The people were incredibly friendly, but I soon felt like an outcast in another way: Most of the photos included children. Kids lined up along a fence. Kids posing at Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. Kids in the front row of family reunion pictures. You know the kind, where the original couple is surrounded by the many generations. Yeah. I don’t have a lot of those pictures. My albums are full of dogs, cats, buildings, beaches, mountains, and flowers.
The picture I brought, which inspired some smiles, showed my first husband, my father and my brother all leaning down looking into the back of the VW bus that we took on our first honeymoon. That was in 1974, when I was 22 and had no doubts about being a mom someday, and no clue that the marriage wouldn’t last. The honeymoon, a road trip all over the western U.S. and Canada, was great. At home, we didn’t do so well.
But back to the pictures. I suspect most of us don’t keep actual printed photo albums anymore. I don’t, although I have quite a few from the past. We store pictures on our phones, tablets and computers and post them on social media, but it’s still the same. My friends show me pictures of their children and grandchildren. I show them pictures of my dog or the weird bear statue somebody draped in garlands this Christmas (Bondage Bear, I called him). I have some pictures of my nieces and nephews, but I don’t see them often, and it’s not the same. I take a lot of pictures to accompany my blogs and other writing projects. But I’ll never line my children up on the front porch for the annual first-day-of-school photo. Or pose with their kids at Christmas.
What does that leave me to share or to save in albums? And who would I save those albums for? When I die, who is going to care?
I rarely get my own picture taken. Most of the pics I put online are selfies or photos I paid a professional to take. No one seems anxious to save my image or put it on the wall like the 1800s picture of my great-grandma Louise that I study at my dad’s house, looking for features that have been passed down, trying to sense the kind of person she was. Does anyone believe all those Facebook pictures will even exist in a hundred years? (remember floppy disks? Gone!)
I have been thinking about piecing together a family-tree style collection of photos of all my loved ones, especially those who have died, so I can look at them all in one place. The tree will not go on beyond me. My line goes only backward, not forward. I’m a twig that will never reproduce. So who would I do it for? Me. It would make me happy, and that’s good enough.
My brother, the only person with exactly the same ancestors, might be interested, but he is surrounded by children and grandchildren these days. His branch of the tree is getting heavy with new branches.
Back to that photo I passed around. The seniors got a laugh at the old VW with its “lawnmower” engine in the back. My ex, shirtless, squatted in front of the engine. He was the real mechanic in the group, but my father, still dressed up from the wedding, was bent over supervising while my brother, back in jeans and tee shirt, stood back, looking worried. It was his bus that we were about to drive all over hell and gone with “Just Married” painted in blue all over it and only three working cylinders. I could write a lot more about that picture than I could about yet another string of blonde, blue-eyed Oregon kids.
So what do you take pictures of? Do you put them in albums or other kinds of collections? Who will care about them when you’re gone? Does it matter? Please share in the comments.
8 thoughts on “Pictures of Kids? Not So Much”
I have similar thoughts. For me, Ancestry and photos of my ancestors always meant so much. I tried to learn about all of them and continue to do so to this day. However, before I knew I would be childless, I thought I would surely pass these photos and the history behind them down to my kids. Now, I still take pictures. They are mine to look at and to reminisce about. Where will they go when I am gone? I have ideas about passing them on to friends’ kids when their parent is in them or to other applicable family members. Otherwise, sadly, I am sure that eventually they will be discarded by my stepdaughter or her future children.
Oh, I can’t make up my mind about photographs.
I have some of my parents and grandparents on display, and I’ll be putting up some more for myself, but I’m resigning myself to everything being discarded when I’m gone. I have given copies of pics of the grandparents and great-grandparents to cousins.
I used to wonder what to do about jewellery too, but a carer took most of my mother’s, unfortunately. (Only the plain gold stuff that she could sell anonymously – including my grandmother’s wedding ring: I feel a lot of guilt about that. I wish I’d already passed it to a cousin’s daughter. Mum had dementia and was still in her own home, prior to moving in with me – I had to build an extension with a wet room for her since she wouldn’t have been safe on our stairs. Hindsight’s a marvellous thing.)
I have some nice pieces of my own that my husband bought for me. Always thought I’d give them to my daughter. Guess they’ll go in an estate sale when I die.
I enjoyed the description you wrote of the photo with your ex, dad and brother. I love old photos. I see them a lot when I haunt antique malls and auctions. I always feel a little sad rifling through the boxes assuming that many of them were probably discarded after the death of a childless person.
But if you think deeper you could consider that the photos were discarded for other reasons. Perhaps a break in family relations. Someone becomes estranged and even in death, it sticks. Even if you’ve elected to keep photos of your estranged family, one doesn’t typically make post mortem arrangements to mail their old family photos to the person you hate least. So the photos are left for someone else to deal with.
Children usually care enough about family to want photos left behind by their parents. But what happens when a parent loses their own child in death? When that parent cherishes her family photos of happier times, and then dies, who is “supposed” to take ownership of the family paraphernalia? A niece? A nephew?
We never took a lot of photos in our family. My mother never says, “Oh. Here. Stand next to hubby so I can get a photo of you.” She took the perfunctory amount of photos that you are supposed to take on prom and graduation. But not much else. She once put a photo album in the trash can. Just chucked it into the kitchen trash along with the cheese wrappers and empty potato chip bags. Luckily my dad fished it out. My point is – some people just don’t care about photos. Because of my family’s attitude about photos I’m reluctant to take photos of people. I don’t want to impose.
I tend to take photos of pretty things. A flower, a really nicely plated meal, swirls of satin ribbons that I’ve carelessly dropped on a counter. A piece of lace. A leaf. The cracked binding of a beautiful book. Things that make me smile and feel good. These photos live in my phone and will be gone the second technology switches. I rarely look at them again, but it feels good to know that I carry beauty with me.
I love this philosophy about your photos. Thanks for sharing this.
Perhaps like Anonymous above, I also take photos of things that I like, rather than of people. (Which is not to say I don’t like people!) I’m not a natural photographer of people, and – as I’m not photogenic – I hate it when someone pulls out their camera or phone for a picture.
I take photos of flowers, of beautiful or interesting scenery, and travel photos. We love our travel photos, and I have a wall of black and white photos, and lots and lots of photobooks. I know that no-one will want them when we’re gone. I’m okay with that. I hope that the occasional time our photos pop up in their own family pictures will give them fond memories and make them smile. But I can’t control whether that will happen or not. I share a lot of photos on my blogs – A Separate Life @wordpress.com and last year on my daily blog. And in December, I even put together a little book for childless women using my photos from my No Kidding blog.
Thanks, Mali. I just checked out your blog. Following. Good stuff. If no one else wants our photos, we will love them ourselves.
you might want to think about donating your old photos to a historical society or museum. There are people out there who would be interested in seeing them just because they are a piece of history even if they don’t know the people in the photos. To us these photos may seem mundane, but to younger people who have no experience of that era, it could be an interesting curiosity to see what life was like a few decades before they were born.
I like that idea!