Old photo albums are great dust collectors. The older the album, the more dust collected. Few of us really peruse or study those old black and white snapshots of another time and place. It’s an era long since passed. A world totally removed from our version of today’s reality. Yet those photos have a multitude of clues as to our genetic, cultural, social and emotional makeup that defines who and what we’ve become today.
If we took the time to study those grainy images of the past it would reveal secrets long held in open view. Ancestry.com and 23 & Me moved the study of our own history to the forefront of our consciousness. But what they reveal is a lineage, not a cultural connection. The photos, if studied carefully, reveal so much more.
Recently, with Sharon’s unexpected illness, I’ve had to spend an inordinate amount of time indoors as I helped her recover. One particular morning after my coffee and Tablet meditation, I glanced up for the one millionth time and suddenly had one of those rare ‘ah-ha’ moments. Sitting in my comfy chair in the family room, I looked up at a collection of family pictures that had been there on the wall for decades and suddenly I saw them in a whole new light.
On the wall were old photos of myself and Sharon as youngsters, our two kids, my Mother and Step-father, Sharon’s parents, a favorite aunt and my Mother’s family plus an array of sundry relatives. They had been there since we repainted the walls and redecorated our family room years ago.
Studying those photos for the first time ‘in real time,’ I realized in my seventy-seven years that this is where I came from. These people were my DNA, my roots, my line of ancestors who brought with them an attitude and aptitude that I inherited to some degree myself. I saw them for the first time as a culture and a work ethic that now courses through my veins. There are no doctors or lawyers or industrialists there. Rather it is a collection of solid middle class folks who formed the backbone of this country. Solid blue with a hint of pale white etching through the edges.
Old family farm photos only hint at my grandparent’s hard scrabble life, dependent on the weather, crop prices, farm help and luck. Ancestry.com and 23 and Me brought only vague and vapid lines of ancestry that I could trace. It said nothing of the personalities and personal lives and times of those people. I could peruse history books and guess at their lives during that period but it was only a guess.
Unfortunately, the rural, German agrarian mindset of my ancestors left little in terms of historical research on their life and times. My mother’s reticence to talk about her life growing up or my father’s background left me with little to go on. Growing up, my own lack of interest in Aunts and Uncles who didn’t care about me left little reason to ask questions of them. Nobody was talking until it was too late and early onset dementia or old age fogged up the memory bank that might have disclosed those old revealing stories.
So I’m left with old black and white photos to study and close ups of faces to give me hints as to their mindset. Seven plus years ago, I started blogging. Those weekly brain-dumps forced me to revisit almost seventy-plus years of living. After more than four hundred plus mini-memoirs published online, I’ve been forced to go back and reflect on those many different aspects of growing up.
That journey back in time has been, at times, satisfying, frustrating, and revealing.
It is who I am.