One of my latest projects has been to convert many of our oldest family photos into digital form. Bill has also been working since the summertime to trace the McGaugh ancestry and has found information dating back hundreds of years. So far, the oldest photograph we have is of my great-great grandparents, Holden Berve (he was French) and Julia Kittleson (she was Norwegian): they were the parents of Ina Berve, my mom’s mom’s mom. 😉

Holden and Julia

There has always been something comforting to me about looking at pictures, organizing them, making albums. I used to spend hours, hours, hours combing through all of my parents’ photographs, even when I was just in middle school, organizing them, trying to make narratives from them. I am sentimental about the past, perhaps excessively so at times. Photographs before my birth are portals into a world of myth and legend, family lore. Sitting around for birthday dinners around my Nana’s table while growing up, my Uncle Eric would make the childhood of my mom and her siblings come alive for me, and so many pictures were like illustrations to his narratives of glorious times.

As I sit now at age thirty-one looking back on the pictures from my childhood, I remember so many beautiful moments, moments that have gone by as the seasons have turned faster and faster. There is joy, and also now there is quite a bit of melancholy. I am grateful for the present moment, yet I am realizing now how fast is this journey of life. I am reminded that I should be thankful for every moment left of my life, not to complain, to take time to be present—even in the day-to-day simple things.

I found this picture last night:

I was about five-and-a-half-years old here. I remember this day, and I remember my dad taking this series of pictures. My dad and I went to see Grandpa and Grandma Yoder’s house, newly framed, in Newport Beach. This house came out of Grandpa Yoder’s imagination, as he designed it and drew it. Of course, I didn’t realize the significance of that creativity at the time, nor did I know that twenty-five years later I would be looking at this picture with a cry held tight in my chest.

Oh years can put the narrative on any frame… When I look at this picture, I see family dinners in the dining room (to the right in this picture), I see the children’s table with Jed and eventually my brother, I see many years later the place where I played with Katie while my mom and Aunt Debbie helped Grandpa Yoder sort mail and pay bills. I see part of the living room, the place where my brother tried out his toy car for the first time, the place where my aunts and uncles would tell stories and laugh, the place where my Aunt Lark would let Jed and me tie her up with discarded ribbons from packages. Looking with adult eyes, I see the hard work of my grandfather, and his precision. I see so many things… I see Time.

Driving the kiddos to music class in Fallbrook this morning (our new semester has started and we enjoyed seeing our friends!), I thought of this picture and felt an almost irrepressible sadness rise to my head. I think I could have pulled over and bawled. When we grieve, we never know when it will come or why. Perhaps looking at old pictures makes the grief more present; then again, maybe it is part of the catharsis as we learn how to recreate our grief into something more positive, a narrative, a history of and for our family.

We can celebrate in these stories, bringing them into the present for our children. We are reassured that no one is forgotten or lost, that the power of a new generation means that the family’s joyful moments and lore will always continue.

I am who I am in part because of all the beautiful people who came before me. Pictures, like the frame of my grandpa’s house, become the foundation for the life and stories we put on them. Let us gather our joy in our histories and help them to live again for those who follow us.

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