A shoebox of photos

(This is in memory of Steve, and is for Debbi) His sister looked through the shoebox of photos. “Wow! I’ve never seen these before!” Sister and Mom sat in chairs on the grass in the backyard. I sat in one of the group of chairs encircling the metal firepit. Together they paged through snapshots. His Mom held slides up to the afternoon sun.

“Dad’s hobby was photography,” Sister said. “Did you see this one? the one where he’s standing in front of that car? What kind of car is that?”

My boyfriend looks, and after a thoughtful pause, he says, “Cadillac.”

It’s a Cadillac with a long front end, maybe late 30s, early 40s. A car that you’d see at those classic car shows. The kind of car you’d wave to if you saw it barrelling along the freeway. The kind of car that brings a smile to your face in the year 2010.

“He’s always posed in front of cars,” Sister says. She and Mom look at the snapshots of toddlers in a tall tile bath. “Who is that with Steve?”

Mom looks, and says a name.

(Alas, I forgot the name. This is not my family, so the names don’t register as strongly.)

Steve, the one toddler in the bath, just died. Age 59. Friday before last. This occasion I describe is Sunday, two days after. A week ago Sunday. There was a daily succession of open house reception at his house. Food and drink. Comfort food. Stories, laughter. Tears. Hugs.

And this box of photos. Steve had them.

I am friend to his wife, Debbi.

(In the interest of accuracy, I suppose I should say widow. But I don’t want to. After Dad died, when I thought of my Mom with the word widow, it’d start me whimpering.)

Steve died exactly a month after another very dear friend of mine died.

There’ve been too many deaths lately.

I took food over to the gathering at Debbi’s house. And recording equipment. I’d already brought a recorder to the hospital Easter Sunday afternoon, so my friend could capture whatever stories and memories and statements that came out. Turns out that the weekend immediately after was too soon for family members to tell stories in that formal kind of way. Too soon. This is too sore.

Sister shows me another photo. “That’s Mom,” she tells me. Then,  “Look at you, Mom! What a beauty!”

There she is, a young woman, dark eyes, upswept hair, a form-displaying dress with cinched waist and A-line skirt. Stockings and high-heeled pumps. Curly bangs and shoulder-length hair. The forties, I think.

“That’s when I was young,” Mom says.

I laugh.

I’m now old enough, having reached the age with a notorious number. I can see her point. I’m old enough to see younger pictures of myself and sigh, ah youth. I am older now, but I feel the same age inside. I get it. I do.

I feel such affection and warmth, witnessing this scene. (And it’s not just the late April sun on my back, either. Though there is that.) I have been there. Looking at pictures. Reminiscing. It happens at times like these.

(I certainly went on my own picture looking and scanning foray last fall.)

These photos are not my photos. These relatives are not my relatives. But I’ve lived that process of poring over a box of photos, of faces that are familiar, and faces that are mysteries. (Here’s Mom, here’s Dad, here’s Grandma, here’s Grandpa. Here’s me as a baby. Here’s someone—I don’t know who that is.)

And I’ve lived those weird days immediately after a death, where life is surreal. “I can’t believe that he’s gone. It isn’t real to me.” I don’t know if those are my words, or Steve’s sister’s words. They could be both. I heard her say something like that sometime that day. I know I’ve said or thought an identical thing myself.

Watching the examination of the box of photos brought me a quiet joy. This. Yes. This is good.

I can’t get any more specific about it; I’ve got nothing more than this is a good thing.

To see the nephew look, explore. Ask his mom questions. See for himself. Young man, these are your people. Yes. This.

(And yes, when the comfort food got too near the photos, I was a quiet advocate for preservation: “Do you want me to hold that while you finish eating?” and “You know, I don’t like it that the beer is so close to the box of photos.”)

Looking through a box of photos, counting up the history is the Mac and Cheese of activities. It’s comfort activity. Looking through photos. Of seeing the larger swath of history to which Steve belonged, to which his sister belonged, his mother, and the other relatives gathered on that sunny day a week ago.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 03, 2010 in • MemorabiliaPhotographs
1 CommentsPermalink

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Susan, what a lovely post….I’ve got tears in my eyes from reading it and recalling my own forays into family photos at such a time.  Knowing that it was Debbi and Steve’s family is just heartbreaking….God love them all.

Lori Elliott Webster  on 05/03  at  03:28 PM

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