On remembering our stories

I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents in the same town as me throughout my childhood. My granddaddy was a photographer for many years and had a modest home studio when I was a kid. I loved sitting in his studio or pestering him from the other side of the bathroom door while he was developing his latest roll. One of my very earliest memories was of him taking my passport photos in his studio. Mind you, I didn't get a passport until I was in college, so I'm imagining he just felt like taking some simple photos of me that day. Or, perhaps more likely, I was driving him crazy and he wanted to keep me entertained for a few minutes.  

Granddaddy on the left with his camera

Granddaddy on the left with his camera

I also remember visiting my Grandma's house and heading straight for her piles of family photo albums. She loves telling stories about how I would hold up a photo of my mom as a baby and say, "I don't remember this dress!" not realizing that it wasn't a photo of myself at the same age. 

My dad and his brothers

My grandmother with her siblings and friends

I tell you all of this to say that although it took me nearly 30 years to realize it, a love of photography has been coursing through my veins for a very, very long time.  

Last week, I came home to find Brandon had left me Shauna Niequist's new book Bread & Winesitting in a gift bag on our bed. Shauna and I share a deep, deep love for the kind of community that is built around a kitchen table. Although I am not a terribly talented or devoted cook, I am a terribly talented and devoted eater. So, naturally, I was loving Shauna's book. But after several chapters about food, I was pleasantly surprised to find a little excerpt  about photography: 

My grandma is eighty-two, and I love to look at old photographs of her and my grandpa. She told me one morning while I was flipping through the pages of an album that getting old is like carrying all these selves with you. She said she remembers just how that thirteen-year-old in the picture felt, and how that nineteen-year-old bride felt, and how that thirty-year-old on the back of a motorcycle felt. She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more and more and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls, stacking one inside the other, nesting within themselves, waiting to be discovered, one and then another.  

The other night ... I dug out one old photo of Aaron and myself and put it on the buffet next to our wedding photo and pictures of the boys. Aaron was delighted. "I love that photo," he said. "I love remembering who we were then."

I love the power of photos. The way they remind you of all those other selves you carry around inside you. The way they remind you of the pivotal (and mundane) moments of your story.  

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These are two of my favorite photos of Brandon and I. The first is the very first picture that was taken of us. We were newly dating and this was the first time we arrived at a party "together". Suddenly, seeing this photo, I'm reminded of those early weeks and months. The newness. The excitement. All those little firsts. Suddenly, I'm 21 and discovering who this guy for the very first time.

The second is, of course, our wedding day. Next week will be our 4th anniversary. But I still remember our wedding like it was yesterday. All those crazy little things that went wrong. All those perfect little things that went just right. The way I bawled walking down the aisle and bawled during our vows. The way he squeezed my hand and when we pressed our heads together and took Communion. Hugging each and every guest before they left the church. Jumping into our getaway car and Brandon not realizing the parking brake was still on!   

These are stories we remind ourselves of regularly. We want to remember where we came from. 

I love knowing that when a couple invites us to document their wedding day, that it will be those very photos that will be shown to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The bridal portrait I take in that hotel room will be the photo that sits on her nightstand for years to come, reminding her of her overwhelming beauty when she is covered in day old food and she hasn't brushed her hair in three days.  

I love knowing that when a family invites us into their home, that photo of Dad twirling his daughter will be one they both treasure for the rest of their lives. And the photo of the kids being their goofy selves will be the one Mom holds tight to when she realizes that her kids are all grown up now. And the one of the sisters playing in their bedroom will be the picture they take to college with them, because now they live two states away, and they miss their sister... and their childhood bedroom. 

And video. Oh, the power of video!

To hear voices. To hear the way he laughs. To see the way she looks at him. To see the way he chokes up when the music crescendos as she walks down the aisle. The gentle way they hold their newborn. The way the brothers play together. 

Just like that, we are back to that moment. We remember who we are. Where we came from. And maybe if we're lucky, a bit of clarity on where we may be going.