Sometime between Lascaux cave drawings and selfies, there were photographs. We had a camera. We took pictures of friends and family, essentially documenting our lives — holidays, birthdays, weddings, vacations and youth athletic contests. We put these memorials in big books, and then we filed those books away in the attics, basements and laundry rooms of the four homes we have lived in here in Oak Park. These photos were important enough to travel with us to our new homes, but not important enough to ever look at.
Until recently. The Hubbuchs are having a “Cousins Reunion” in New Albany, Indiana this Saturday. So I got the idea to round up all these photos, and see if they might enhance our reunion experience.
A few preliminary observations. First, there were lots more photos of first child and first grandchild than any others. I love all my children and grandchildren the same, so that love does not correlate with the number of infant photos. However, I suspect the number of photos is directly related to the time you have to take photographs. You can’t take a photo and change a diaper at the same time, and you don’t take pictures of one son clobbering the other.
Second, I looked quite a bit better in my 30s than I do in my 60s. My hair is darker and I look a lot younger. However, my sartorial presentation was much worse when I was younger. Today, the basic old-man style of shorts and khakis and a shirt makes the aging all look pretty much alike. But some of the get-ups I have worn over the years were more suitable for the circus, or perhaps South Beach in the 1970s. A fashion question: Was corduroy ever in? Was I a failed fashion icon, or a big dork?
A flood of wonderful memories washed over me as I picked through these frayed and faded photos. There were my parents, uncles, cousins, old friends when I was a young dark-haired young man.
There were the three sons and their now long-forgotten friends, who were nonetheless immediately recognized and named. There was a vacation trip to Hilton Head and the pond where we threw golf balls at the alligators (OK, that was poor parenting on my part). The boys in their baseball, basketball and soccer uniforms presenting the same happy smiles as their children, in similar uniforms, display now. And the big wheel kept turning.
Inevitably there were sad memories. My parents, aunts, uncles, some cousins and friends are now gone, and only these photos remain. My mom died when she was 62. She missed so much. There will never be another photo of her. She will never see another photo. Her grandchildren will never sit on her lap. Ever.
And then there were the pictures of people my age who at one time were dear friends, but because I changed law firms, or they moved out of town, I lost contact even though we swore we would be friends forever. Alas, the quotidian erosion of life somehow just wore away those promised, unbreakable bonds of friendship. I wonder what happened to them. I wonder if any of them ever think of me.
These photos trigger perspective. It is hard to reflect on life while you are living it. Then when your kids are grown and you are retired, many of the people with whom you want to share your memories are gone.
And all you have left are photographs and memories.