A thousand words.

Grandpa Jim & siblings | Late 1920s

Every day we log on to Facebook and see pictures of our friends and family… of their kids, their pets, their random observations, and more times than not, the turkey sandwich they’re getting ready to have for lunch. The images are inescapable and, often times, forgotten in the time it takes us to scroll down the page. Sure, a select few make it from pixels-on-a-screen to a frame on the bedside table, but it’s easy to become desensitized to the notion that a picture captures an exact moment in time.

Jim & Millie | 1940

Several years ago we decided to throw a surprise 80th birthday party for my grandfather. Part of the preparation involved gathering pictures of my grandpa from various willing relatives, with the goal of building a photographic timeline of his life. I wasn’t sure what we’d be able to piece together, as my sole memory of “old pictures” when I was growing up was my grandmother talking about how some day she was going to put them all in chronological albums and label them. She was big on labels, my grandmother, perhaps proof that a little of my OCD trickled down the family tree from her. I don’t think the pictures ever made it into those oft-mentioned mythical albums, though, as her memory faded long before the task was checked off the TO DO list.

Jim & Millie | 1942

The pictures we were able to gather, though, were a wonderful surprise. Once the party was over, before returning the pictures to their rightful owners — I had to sign some sort of blood oath with a few of the donators — we made sure to scan a copy of each and every one, labeling them to the best of our collective abilities.

I’m really not overly sentimental when it comes to physical possessions. Running from a burning house, I’d have a hard time listing a half dozen things that I’d be sure to grab. Some of the pictures that were collected for that birthday party, though — many of them now enlarged, framed, and decorating our walls — have become my most prized possessions. Maybe it’s because they give me a sense of history or a feeling of roots. Perhaps they serve as a bridge to the past in a way that allows me to connect with the untold experiences of my loved ones. Often, though, it’s just because they make me smile.

Jim & sons | 1954

While I’m sure every picture has a story, I don’t know any of them for sure. I imagine that most of these pictures mark some sort of special occasion… a scheduled annual family photo, an Easter Sunday before leaving for church, or the arrival of a new bundle of joy. I love being able to recognize the same glimmers of individual personality, even in an old grainy photograph, that I still see to this day in my flesh and blood loved ones.

I imagine my grandmother often serving as family photographer, directing every pose and chastising the uncooperative. I look for signs of the same “would you please just take the blasted picture” rumblings that I routinely hear from certain teenagers (and yes, certain 41 year olds) whenever my mother pulls out a camera at Christmas dinner. I wonder what became of the photos once they were developed, if they were put in frames on the wall or kept on a bedside table. And then, when did the photos come down from those walls or out of those frames, only to be put in a box to be sorted at a later date? What did they think would become of them? Did they have any idea how meaningful those pictures would become, decades later, to future generations just looking for a connection?

So here are just a couple of my treasured possessions, a few small moments captured on film that mean the world to me. There’s not a turkey sandwich in the bunch.

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