Old Photos

I need old photographs. For a project. Mum and I return from a walk and mum digs out albums and dog-eared envelopes and we scatter pictures across the floor. Hat, immersed in maths homework, is quickly distracted.

Awww mum! Is that you? She asks, and points to a photograph of me circa 1960something.
Look how blonde you were!
(I pay hairdressers fortunes to emulate what I had aged 3 ½)
Cast back in time.
My mother with a beehive and a cinched in 23 inch waist. My dad all buff and bare-chested. Paul Newman blue eyes.
We laugh at pictures of my brother perched in the birdbath; my baby sister birthdaysuit clad and bald as an egg; myself screaming indignant, red faced and cross, into the lens.
‘Which one next?’ demands Hat, reaching for another album, Pythagoras Theorems’ abandoned.
And so for two hours we are thus immersed. ‘That’s your mummy when she was six, that’s your mummy when she started school … and that’s your grand-dad’.
And then there’s a gap.
A few empty pages, a cold white hiatus between sunny 1985 Africa and the marbled chill of our first Christmas in England.
And Dad is gone.
There is a photograph of him and me. I remember when it was taken: at the airport when I flew to London to seek my fortune. I am wearing a jumper mum had knitted for me. It is grey and pink. And far too thick for a sultry February evening on the equator. But I wear it anyway. Out of loyalty. Dad is beside me. His hand in mine.
For a moment we are silent. ‘That’s the last time I ever saw Dad’, I say to mum.

I know, she says.
And then, ‘is that a cigarette he’s holding?’.
‘Mum’, I laugh, ‘you find me a picture where Dad isn’t holding a fag’.
And she laughs too.
And we turn the page.
Because life goes on.

15 Responses to “Old Photos”

  1. daisyfae Says:

    reminds me that i haven’t gone through the old albums with my mother in a few years… this is beautifully written.

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    It always amazes me how interested my kids are in old family and photos and stories. I need to be less reticent when it comes to sharing those things.


  3. Expat Mum Says:

    Yes it does. I have a great photo of the last time I saw my dad. I had just turned 20 and was about to go back to uni. We had both been out for a pint, and I was sprawled across his lap. We were laughing hysterically about something and I was clearly too big and heavy for him, but it’s a great photo. I’m always grateful that the last time was such a good memory.

  4. rosiero Says:

    That is beautiful, just beautiful. Brings tears to my eyes.

  5. Iota Says:

    My daughter was asking only yesterday to see a picture of my dad, the grandfather none of them ever met. I showed her the ones of him at our wedding, looking old and ill and anxious. I wish I had some of him to hand when he was younger and more fun.

    Family roots are so important for children, aren’t they? Sometimes I HATE living abroad…

  6. Jo Says:

    I love old albums and life does indeed carry on.

  7. Rummuser Says:

    I must have done this exercise about a dozen times. The idea being to catalog them, digitalize them and put them in some kind of chronological order. After about an hour or so of sorting, I inevitably give up.

    I had posted a photograph of mine from the past in my blog a couple of months ago. I had a cigarette in my hand, and you can imagine the barrage I received in comments and emails!

  8. Paradiselostintranslation Says:

    Yes,my children love looking too, though it’s mainly of them so baby photos mainly, but all our older albums are in storage or lofts somewhere, back in the UK, who knows & we can’t get them out & leaf thru them. My husband still religiously selects & prints our digital photos & makes albums. I feel it’s so important to have them to touch & pore over. I still look through the old albums of my husband’s childhood stored in the book case of his parents’ guest room, whenever we stay there.

  9. Grannymar Says:

    We never had photo albums, just a large suit box haphazardly filled with photos from several generations. The box was taken out on many a dreary winters day. We would easily distract mammy from her chores with the repeated “Mammy who is this”?. The fashions fascinated me.

    A few years ago I borrowed the box from my sister and sorted dated and scanned all the photos into my computer. It is amazing how well they look on screen. In 2004 we had a family gathering and we added all the photos from that time. We put the whole collection on CD for each of my siblings as a farewell gift.

  10. kate Says:

    This is the first time I have read your blog and it nearly made me cry. Lovely writing.

  11. Tamara Says:

    it did make me cry. beautiful.

  12. Livvy U Says:

    Life does go on, doesn’t it – and flies by, sometimes, and you find that you haven’t visited the people you most admire in the blogosphere for some time, because life happens, and then you return to the places you most love and find that you still love them. Thankyou – This is such a bittersweet post.
    Nice to be back.

  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you. thank you all.

    it’s lovely to be home.

    and i mean that. i really do. and i suprise myself …

  14. Polprav Says:

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  15. Roger Wilson Says:

    Great Writing Anthea, really enjoyed the quiet!

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