Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Family Photos

Inside multicolored homemade and store-bought albums are a collection of photos that are moments frozen in time. The clear adhesive pages hold the images in place, arranged by year, theme, and family importance. The uncomplicated architecture and furniture a sign of the times, and the framed photos lining the living room walls keeping watch over the family and frequent visitors. The past when dreams were still ahead of us and we thought that each dream would come true. Fading images and clothing styles that show us in a different physical and emotional space as we trace the faces with an aged finger on the laminated pages.

Some of the memorialized are friends and classmates we once thought would always be there to share life's defeats and triumphs. These were simpler times when people seemed innocent and unassuming, unaware of what awaited them on the succeeding pages. A sleeping baby in a bassinet and the miniature sailor alongside him grinning brightly, as he probably was instructed to do. An expectant newborn waiting on the edge of an ornamented sofa for his mother's return, quiet and patient. A son's love for his mother as he looked into her face, and her misguided quest to find a husband and substitute father for her only son. A young mother teaching her son to tie his shoes while he listened attentively to interspersed life lessons.

The smiling, laughing faces captured on celluloid betray over the years. A time capsule to a forgotten era when family members got along without much preamble. Family ties were strong from the onset until the first argument shattered the delicate porcelain; slamming doors and raised voices echoing in the wake of hurried escapes. Harmony was expected after that last disruption, betrayal, or lie. Bruised egos and misunderstandings were common, apologies far more difficult to attain. The ones who were closest to us knew each button to push and emotional landmine to avoid when necessary.

Photos capture moments in time that can't be repeated; each smiling face posed alongside either an ally or an enemy depending upon the occasion and guest list. Sometimes memories betray those in the picture, but the pictures never lie. Not all were happy to be there, not all wanted to be there, bunched together while the official photographer snapped several pictures to record the auspicious event.

The frozen faces reveal innocence and naiveté that faded over the years. The past can be a mirror into what a family meant to each other and the neighborhood. Our mind wanders to a distant place that seems otherworldly, as if aliens inhabited the homes, churches, and community centers displayed in the dated photos. The musty and discolored pages won't disclose their secrets of how and when this family disintegrated. The best intentioned family can fall prey to the ravages of time, hidden agendas, unresolved anger.

Sometimes the missing photos are the ones that hold the key to our true identity; a photo that couldn't have been taken under the cover of dawn as a petite grandmother pushed her grandson in a wheelbarrow in his footed superhero pajamas from a rental house down the street to the house her deceased husband built and paid for years ago. Missing photos of births, miscarriages, abortions, and deaths - a life's cycle of photos, smiles, and experiences to pass on to subsequent generations.

There are those who refuse to look into the eyes and faces of the photographed, for fear of competition, comparisons, and haunting. No one wants to compete with dead relatives that met unfortunate ends, forever held in awe or prestige by surviving relatives. No one knows if the deceased, had they survived, would've achieved greatness or succumbed to the family legacy. All is fair in love, homage, and conjecture.

There were family members who didn't like taking photographs because of animosity, their ridiculed looks, and loss of control. One or two family members rallied the troops, positioned and posed everyone, and snapped the photo. People came together on a variety of cultural, religious, and spiritual holidays and celebrations. Birthdays and their requisite family and neighborhood parties brought out the best and worst in the host family and guests. The birthday boy or girl was usually the best dressed and the center of the table and celebration, but sometimes a parent of an invited guest tried to upstage the celebrant, dressing their child or children in their Sunday best. A family conference off to the side remedied the situation, and the offending guest was cut in half in the photo or wasn't included at all.

Looking closely at the assembled photographs, one can see the tension in the faces and distance in the body language. Smiling faces tell lies, and sometimes those lies are carried to the grave. The smiling faces on parade, which one will reign supreme? Family secrets are bargained and traded at family gatherings, in the heat of the moment, and with children who shouldn't have been told. Children should listen and learn, and not be burdened with adult matters. It was irresponsible of his mother to disclose her nephew's paternity to her son, regardless of what her sister had said or done to tear the fabric.

The colors fade in color photos, blacks become gray and white collect age spots and airborne contaminants. In an ideal world, the pictures, personalities, and demeanors would be frozen in time, but that wouldn't be realistic. Time must march on, people age and change. It's unfortunate that time travel isn't possible; more people would travel back in time when places were less expensive, inhabitants less demanding and complicated. Without dreams, hopes, and faith, families would not survive. A family dream reborn and recycled for the longevity of the family is the best gift we can offer.

1 comment:

Jeni said...

I sort of "stumbled" in here - clicked on the Fuelmyblog site of the day. Glad I did that too cause I enjoyed reading your commentary on family, old photos and such - also the work and medical benefits quandry that so many people are in today. Hope you find out too what's causing the headaches.