Every year at the beginning of school I get little cards or folded over papers with other kids’ pictures on them. They are the advertising for the upcoming school pictures. I make a selection and seal my check in the little attached envelope at the bottom. I love having the record of the kids at the beginning of school. It is fun to compare year to year even though we don’t do much else with the photographs. Eventually I gather them up and they go in a large cardboard box. With all the new digital technology, school pictures are no longer the event they once were.
I remember when I was young, we dressed up on picture day and worried about our hair until the photographer said something goofy and we finally smiled. OK, I might not have worried about my hair as much as others thought I should, but I still had to dress up because momma made me. However, one year my mom pushed the rules just a little bit. She made me a new green dress and it had a row of three buttons centered right down the front. I loved the dress and wanted to wear it for picture day. I also loved cats and my mom ALLOWED me to take my official school picture with my cat! I am not sure how she pulled it off but that is one of the few photographs I still have of my younger years. I have a quirky little grin and the cat is, well the cat is being a cat! Oh, the memories! I love that picture of my younger self holding a small, most likely terrified, Siamese cat.
And so when picture day comes around each fall, I purchase the school pictures. I write the checks and send off the forms. I don’t care if they are great or even so-so. I just want the time marker. Because I believe that everyone’s school pictures are important to future generations. The small, glossy, piece of cardstock that can be looked at in years to come and evoke long forgotten memories. My favorite photographs are the old square ones, with the wavy edges and the dates printed on them. They bring the lives of my parents and grandparents into focus.
After the funeral of my grandmother several years ago, we all met up at my mom’s house to eat and reminisce. On the old family table, in the den, my mother placed several cardboard boxes full of old photographs. Some were grainy. Some were in black and white. Many were cards with four identical pictures. Old school pictures that were never cut. The older generation gathered close to the table and carefully shuffled through the small white paper cards that were essentially the recordings of their lives. They would chuckle and point out specific details that were pertinent to the story that was sure to follow. When the stories started, the room got quiet. We pulled closer to hear about the lives of those we followed.
The crowd hung around the table for most of the afternoon and when we set all the food back out that night, we gathered around again. This time the photographs were strewn about the table top and few were left in the boxes. Some had been taken to a new cardboard box in a new home. Others were appropriated and designated for the digital world. It was a great way to remember not only my grandmother, but also to pin down some important times and events for future generations.
The new generation has loops and slide shows and all kinds of technical wizardry on computers to show their own children in various micro-second poses, and I am thankful for those pictures, but I like to have printed copies as well. I love to grab a handful of pictures and shuffle through them with my kids. We laugh and remember. They ask questions of times before they were born, of cousins not remembered, and places they weren’t sure about. We flip though the stack more than once and then put them in a big cardboard box.
Someday, my own cardboard boxes will be filled and hopefully, the old photographs will drift down to the next generation, helping them to better understand their own journey and their impact in the lives of others.