I still find pleasure in flipping through old photo albums.
The yellow tinted photos of the 70s, the overly color saturated photos of the 80s and the glossy deep rich photos of the 90s. The near perfect processed hard copy photos of the digitally manipulated shots that I tuned before sending off to the drugstore – existent - but a noticeable smaller collection as most live in hard drives.
The photo albums that W will be able to glance through will be so different that what his mother and I once thumbed through in our younger years.
In my albums, no doubt, he will find old hard copy photos of M and I dutifully ordered by our parents many years ago swiped from their albums to fill our own. He will be able to look back through old photos of M and I – and recreate our lives in his mind before he was born.
He'll be able to see us before our marriage, before we met each other, before I left home and traveled to that town in southeastern Europe He'll be able to fill in the gaps with his imagination and over time piece together stories from the stories we tell him...someday relying on his own memory of our fractured memories.
He will see himself in my baby pictures, as a boy of 2. He'll see me as a scared and awkward boy of 10, and then a teenager struggling with teenage problems. He'll see me in photos with girls that aren't his mother. He'll see me with friends that he'll never meet. He’ll see me with my parents - grandparents that he may recognize in their physical form but who are something different in who they present themselves as today. He'll see me in a uniform. He'll see me with a beard and long hair. He'll see me in distant countries, with strange looking people. He'll see me living in his mother's village...but in photos without her.
And then he'll begin to see her appear in my photos. He'll see us as friends, co-workers and then the shots of our marriage. Celebrations with a family so far away.
He'll see two young people boarding an airplane looking brave, hiding their fears and insecurities about their future together. He'll see their lives develop together over the years, trips with family and friends...and then with the turn of a page, he'll appear.
If he finds his mother’s small book of photos, flipping through the pages, he’ll see his eyes in his mother's eyes as she stands in her little "young pioneer's" kindergarten uniform. Photos of her playing with her two brothers. Black and white images not taken not in the 40s...but the 80s...poor Romania.
He'll see her as a student with friends and boys that aren't his father. He'll see her happy at family gatherings and at dances. And then he'll see the two books become one as he begins to recognize images from my photo albums.
I have seen a few...5 or 6 at the most, photos of my mother and father when they were young. I don't ever remember seeing photos of them starting school, attending dances, graduating from high school or college. There are a couple of the two of them before I was born...but the real photos start flooding into the pages of albums once I arrived. As a child, I viewed the photos, I placed myself at the center of my focus. I've since shifted that focus to what surrounds me in those photos in an effort to understand the two of them a bit more.
Their relationship intrigues me and I have a long term assignment to learn from it. I no longer trust either of their memories - obviously not my father’s due to his disease, but my mother's memory has started to shift towards invention. She also has tainted her memories with those leaning towards only the good aspects of their time together - forgiving him for what he did, and not holding him accountable for the life he gave us after he left.
I will teach W to look at these photos without placing himself our M or me in the center of the focus. I'll ask him to look at our surroundings - the pictures on the walls, the leaves on the trees, the food on the tables. I'll ask him if he thinks that the people in the photos were happy when the photos were taken. Were they wearing false masks? What does he think is really going on in the photo - does the photo represent that instant accurately?
I'll do this to stimulate his imagination and to fill in the holes of our history. I'll tell him stories of those photos and give him details of my life, our life before and after they were taken.
It will be a wonderful experience for him to see our lives as individuals...so far apart...joined...and told in a story that he'll soon tire of hearing...but one that he'll repeat one day.
And he'll also look at his life someday, collected in photos...almost a photo a day - and not see the changes that one can only recognize in photos taken at monthly intervals- will he notice the changes?