Family Matters
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Family Matters

Photographs and Memories

Old-school photo books make memories real again for our family

Photo by May Gauthier on Unsplash

Lately before we sleep, our children like to look at their photo books. Four-year old Shobe lies down and, with one leg crossed over the other, looks at her older sister’s pictures when she was a baby. Shobe laughs at her Achie’s photos. “She looks so funny!” she says and points to the infant’s crinkled and crying face. Achie, seven, looks and laughs with her.

Making photo books for our family has been on my to-do list for years now, but it was only last year, after the lockdowns and with a lot of time on my hands, that I got to working on it.

The backlog was eight years worth of milestones — from our wedding, honeymoon, birth of our two daughters, vacations, birthdays, school activities, to random photos at home and around. The work was slow, starting with sorting and backing up photos. Then with the files in place, I began the long work of selecting pictures. I chose a photo book printing service that included layout, for I knew that if I had to do the layout myself, I would not finish.

A year later, we have 11 photo books and 3 more on the way. I’m not yet finished, for I still have 3 more years to cover, but I’ll get it done eventually.

I grew up having my own photo albums, the old ones where pictures are printed from camera film and pasted on cellophane-covered pages. When I was younger, I liked to look at my old photos and remember the fun years of childhood. As I grew older, I religiously had my photos printed every year, until I became too busy and stopped printing.

Years ago, I discovered that a few albums of my earliest baby photos had been chewed by booklice to dust. I couldn’t stop crying, for those photos were all I had of my late mother, who liked taking photos of us. I felt that without those photos, those years had been taken away from me, though I knew of course that was not the case. I consoled myself with the few pictures I could salvage, which I promptly scanned and saved to the cloud and reprinted.

My husband lost all his childhood photos in a house fire when he was in college. Only one photo was saved, that of him and his cousin playing in a makeshift house they had built on their farm. He still feels sad about it — that he can count only on his memories to remember his childhood.

It’s been years since I last looked at my old photo albums. The memories are bittersweet. Even as I look at recent years’ photos to select for the children’s photo books, the remembrance can be bitter and sweet. Look how fast the children grow! Look how thinner we were! Look how happy the family gatherings used to be… Those were the days. Yet I can’t look back with regrets, for in place of the sad, we are making new happy memories.

When the children look at the photo books, they begin to remember where we went, what they did, and what they looked like before.

“Mama, when there’s no more coronavirus, can we go to Disneyland?” the youngest asks. She remembers her only visit, wearing her favorite Snow White dress that is now too small for her.

“Yes, we will,” I tell her.

“Mama, please continue to take more pictures of us, okay?” the eldest says.

Taking pictures now is so easy, as we use our phones for cameras without worrying about using up film. But it’s not enough for me to have the photos live as digital files. There are limitations to browsing years’ worth of photos on the phone or computer.

To truly document, I put them on paper. If to touch is to feel it as real, the photobooks are the realization of those memories, a tactile way to remember even when we have forgotten.

So, yes, dear daughters, I will take more photos, and I hope you will not tire of posing and smiling. I will finish the photo books so you can enjoy looking at more pictures of you growing up. And when the pandemic is over, we will go back to Disneyland, and you can be sure I’ll take plenty of pictures enough to fill a new photobook.

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Debbie Rodolfo

Debbie Rodolfo

Writer, mother, book lover, businesswoman, traveler from the Philippines || www.bloomingpen.net