We have had a crazy couple days. On Sunday my parents house burned down. Or, burned? There is still a house standing, so it didn’t technically “burn down”, but just saying “burned” sounds weird. It is no longer livable and a large percentage of their belongings were destroyed. My parents were out of the country when it happened and so my husband and I became the ones in charge of the situation. Let me just say, my parents can be very relieved that I married who I married, because my husband has been superman in a cape. I have basically stood off to the side wringing my hands. My brother also stepped up to the plate, long distance, and got all the insurance stuff moving while my husband worked on the grunt work of cleaning out paths of debris so you could walk in the building and boarding up broken windows and doors. The two of them have been amazing. Me, I have listened, nodded my head, said uh-huh, and hovered on the sidelines, available, but not sure how to help.
I ended up with 3 totes of water-soaked, charred photo albums. This became my baby. I told my brother I would try and find a company that could help with photo restorations. I called around. Everyone I talked to were full of lots of useful advice on how I should go about drying the pictures, and then, when the pictures were dry, I could bring them in. I asked one lady on the phone, is there anywhere I can take these where someone can help dry them? Oh no, she said, we really don’t have room for that. I’m sure you have a lot more room at home. Right. We have houseguests at the moment. I informed the lady that I had, literally, thirteen children in my home at the moment. There was nowhere safe I could lay out pictures to dry. She also didn’t seem to realize that we were talking closer to a couple thousand pictures or more. Not, a little handful. My mom is a photographer, my late grandmother was a photographer, and my mom is interested in family history. We’re talking about a 100 years worth of family photos here, from families that liked to take photos.
I finally took the very unorthodox method of sitting on a stool on my lawn and spreading wet pictures all over the grass. When they dried, I would then gather them up and put them in a box. I have been doing this for two days. I still didn’t finish all the photos. My brother, who drove down to help, finally came this evening and took the rest of the photos from me since I am now having to shift my attention to my son’s high school graduation which happens this Thursday, and all the hoopla that goes along with that.
It has been an interesting experience, going through all my mom’s photos. There’s pictures of me in the hospital, covered in wires. I was born a month early with weak lungs and then got pneumonia. According to the little notations on the photos, I didn’t go home till I was nine days old.
Then there’s a pic of my parents when they were engaged. They were so 70s!!
I found an awesome picture of me with my maternal grandparents when I was three years old. This picture means a lot to me. My mother was British and has two sisters. My mother married an American, one sister married a South African, and the other sister married an Englishman. Needless to say, I didn’t see my relatives on that side of the family often. My grandparents were missionaries in South Africa, our family was in Haiti or the US. I met my grandparents three times in my life: when I was eight months old, when I was three years old, and when I was ten years old. My grandfather died on the trip home after that last visit. I met my grandmother one other time when I was fifteen. They were amazing people, I loved them, and I wished that I could have had a chance to know them better.
I found my dad’s baby book. My grandmother’s careful, elegant handwriting, detailing important facts of his first year of life. There was a picture of my grandparents holding my father. I have always been proud of the fact that my grandparents had an interracial marriage in an era when that was not very acceptable.
As I gathered up all the dried photos, scattered across the lawn, everything got mixed up. Pictures of my children mixed up with pictures of my mother as a baby, mixed up with pictures of the Picazo family, mixed up with pictures of the Rigby family. All the time periods blurred together into a box that represented Memory. Memories that we were here. Memories that we lived in families, we hugged our babies, we smiled at birthdays, we got married, older generations died, newer generations were born. Memory of the human story. So Universal. So Personal.
In the end, I have played a small role in helping my parents with this tragedy. But I think it was an important role. Keeper of the Memories. I wasn’t really preserving these pictures just for my mom. I did it for me. For my children. For my grandchildren. Here is the story of our family. Let me tell you about these pictures.