Friday, January 06, 2006

Freeze Frame

Mr. A and I were sick as sick could be over the holidays with two viruses back-to-back, which meant we hardly left the apartment for ten days. We watched a lot of DVDs and trash TV (okay, I watched the trash alone -- Mr. A is so much more evolved) and went through FOUR! boxes of Kleenex. Oh. And ate candy, including an entire tin of Williams Sonoma Peppermint Cremes, which I'd happily take a case of in exchange for my immortal soul. Hear that, Prince of Darkness?? Also a bag of these, which were big news to me when I dragged my mucus-ful self to the grocery store for some soy milk and found a huge table of half-price Christmas candy! All the chocolate seems to have helped -- we're well enough to be back at work. Where there is NO CHOCOLATE.

About halfway through the time off, I felt well enough to obsess over my complete failure to do anything with a giant box of family photos I took home with me when we moved Mom out of her house a year and a half ago. These include ancient pictures of long-dead relatives and not a few pictures of people nobody in our family recognizes. When we were dividing up Mom's stuff, my oldest sister J decided that "Somebody with a scanner should take them all and make electronic copies for everybody!" Evidently I was insane at that moment because I volunteered. The very full banker's box has been sitting in the closet of our spare bedroom ever since. The guilt grew.

I thought about simply scanning the photos and making everybody in the family a CD. Then I thought about putting together some kind of database that would help people identify those in the photos. Then I thought about putting up a website that could incorporate all the genealogy my Mormon family has done with all the photos. Then I stumbled upon Tribal Pages. I've downloaded all the genealogical data I have and over 100 photos so far. There are a couple of problems with the templates on Tribal Pages but overall I recommend their site for this kind of thing.

Looking at (and Photoshopping) these pictures has been an amazing experience. Looking into the eyes of my relatives, without needing to talk or interact with them, has been profound. I see my mother's face as a young woman -- on her graduation day, on her wedding day, with my sisters when they were small -- and I see a woman I've never known personally. She looks happy. I see there are no pictures of my mother and me together until my wedding pictures from 1984. I see my grandparents as a young married couple, Grandmother looking like a vamp in her fashionable coat and Grandpa looking like some kind of playboy in his fedora. I see my dad's hard life on the North Dakota farm during the Depression. I see my sisters as small girls, at Christmas, at Easter, dressed up and looking with love at whoever was taking the picture (probably my father). These photographs are mesmerizing. They hold secrets I can't fully comprehend or communicate. They offer a lesson in impermanence, seeing members of my family grow and age, then disappear. I look into the eyes of my little-girl self and wonder, "What are you thinking? What's making you smile? What's worrying you? What do you love right now?" And sometimes, she answers.

Because I want to protect the privacy of family members (and because I don't want the internet to have a list of our mothers' "maiden" names and our birthdates), I'm not publishing the link to our site here. If you're a friend and would like to see the site, e-mail me.