A fairly large box of jumbled family photos has been sitting on the floor of my room for weeks now, my good intentions of organizing them languishing in this time when days puddle into one another in an “there’s always tomorrow” mode.
I’m waiting to see how painful it might be looking back through these images. Most all of the family, fairly small to begin with, have gone and I, ever the outlier, moved physically far away adding to the distance that was already present because all of my cousins were either much older or much younger than I, an only child, which added to the sense of separation.
Families are curious things. Sometimes there are great similarities or great differences from one to another. Dig back far enough and secrets might lurk in images which carry little accompanying information. If we have been connected by close geographical proximity or by frequent family get-togethers the stories of who did what might have revealed secrets but most likely there were pieces that were never discussed, at least openly. What can you tell by just looking at the photos surviving from those times?
The Baby Boomer generation spans the vast space after the World Wars and the present. If you live near the place of your birth and your family houses have stayed occupied by relatives, the chances are you aren’t feeling this chasm as much as those of us who pulled up roots and went elsewhere and stayed elsewhere. Recently it dawned on me that a part of the great divide we might be in at this moment might have a lot to do with roots and rootedness or lack thereof. I am old so when I am looking at old photos they are really old, 50-80 years ago easily. I somehow managed to absorb rural, small town ways of being in the world from that time, meaning a sense of what was right and fair, of what it meant to be “a good person”, or a “good citizen”, the value system I perceived as the motivation that was present during the two World War eras. Yes, there were great faults in that mindset of belonging including conformity and racism, the obvious first pops ups in my mind. I ask myself if what feels like a simpler time, from photographs or dimming memory, was really that. Did coming through the Second World War pull people together in a true sense of standing together in the face of outside threat? That last war America fought with collective energy began to unravel as smaller wars, divisive wars, wars-after-wars-after wars followed. We Baby Boomers carried this energy, seeking relief from the conformity of the 50’s into wherever all that subsequent seeking led us. But not all followed this path.
What do we find when we look into the faces of the brownish black and white images in the boxes in the attic? Do we see our roots or our separations? Does any of it carry into this present?