My family was not the kind to sit around the dinner table and tell funny stories of how Aunt Ruth met the love of her life after living alone for thirty years and being thought damned to spinsterhood. Or inspiring tales of Grandpa and Grandma and how they cleared the land with their bare hands to build the old homestead. My father's father died when I was too young to know him and my remaining grandparents were more interested in forgetting their upbringings than joyfully recounting ancestral anecdotes. Both my parent's followed that lead.
Ironic, we didn't talk about our familial past, but it was there lurking all the same. Ironic that I now possess boxes of old snapshots of people I presume I am related to but do not know. Crates of photographs, metaphors for all the unmentioned personality quirks and behaviors that underlie our personal family dynamics. When my mother died recently my brother discovered a new box of snapshots in the attic. They smelled like dead skin and cat pee; hidden memories pungent with meaning. But I looked through each and every stinky photo just the same. Unlike Roland Barthes looking though his dead mother's photographs, I was not desperately looking for proof of my mother's goodness. I was looking to look. More like a voyeur at a crime scene. I don't know most of these people and there is no one to ask about them. Of course I will keep all of the snapshots but why? Why are these photographs important to me? The images I liked the most are the ones that are fading away. They seem the most honest. We may, like The Corinthian Maid, make images of our loved ones hoping to remain connected to them after they leave; to have a surrogate security blanket. But this is a false relationship. People die. People leave. People change. The fading snapshots of my unknown predecessors have a life and show possibility that is not found in a frozen image. After the death of my mom a wise person told me that the love between people does not end when a life ends. The love my mother had for me still exists, as does the love I have for her. Isn't this like the dimming snapshots? The physical image may be dissolving but the photo/object itself and what it represents is still intact, alive and transforming.