I am eleven.
I climb the shelves in my mother’s closet to reach the heavy volumes of old photographs sitting on the highest shelf. I pull them down, wipe the dust from their covers, and crack them open, the smell of old glue and dusty paper filling the air. I stare in awe at the faces looking back at me. Photographs in black and white, some so old they resemble sketches, transport me to a time and place so foreign and far from my own. My great-grandparents with their expressionless stares so telling of their time. My grandparents, so young, smiling as they enjoy the summer evening on the porch. Colored photographs, yellowing with time, transport me to my mother’s childhood. There’s the same rocking chair that I now sit in. That face, so young, yet so familiar. I look like her, with my straight blonde hair and spray of freckles. There she is as a high school senior. I’m amazed at how it seems she hasn’t aged in seventeen years. There she is at twenty-three and pregnant with me. She looks happy.
I am twenty-three.
I search the familiar volumes for pictures of my grandmother. The picture of her and my grandfather sitting on the front porch. The picture of her as a new mom. The picture of her from my wedding ten months ago, looking beautiful with her silver hair curled to frame her face. I knew this day would come. Sitting in the car, my mom and aunt explained what had happened. I didn’t cry. But I feel the loss. And I miss her. I miss the hours spent crawling around on the floor, laying out her quilting for her. I miss the stories about her early life and the lectures about being grateful for what I’ve been given. I miss ringing her doorbell on Halloween to be greeted with feigned surprise and a special treat. I miss the everyday moments. The moments I had taken for granted since they had always been.
I am thirty-one.
Clearing my hard drives of old files, I come across his baby pictures. That little face, so small and new. I can see his weight loss in those first six weeks, and vividly recall sitting in the pediatrician’s office, hot tears rolling down my cheeks as I earnestly beg for her guidance. I can see him change. He’s older, chubbier, and no longer looks like some kind of strange lizard baby. Those chubby baby thighs and that toothless smile fill my heart with joy. Where has the time gone? How is this child already five? I’m pulled back to the present as he and his younger brother crash into my office, pride dancing across their faces as they excitedly show me their newest backyard discoveries – a ladybug and a slug. I close the laptop and silently vow to print those pictures. To fill up dusty old volumes to be kept on high shelves. To preserve those memories – for my babies, and for theirs.
Photographs are important.