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A picture-perfect way to chronicle memories

by Amy Roby
Amy Roby flips through a photo album.
Special to the R-C

Of the many fond childhood recollections I have of spending time at my grandparents’ house, looking through their trove of family photo albums is near the top of the list.

This was a time-honored ritual for me, and one I never tired of. Time and time again, I’d find my way to the downstairs den and pull one of the thick volumes from the bookshelf. Lying on the floor and propped on my elbows, I would leaf through clear-plastic covered pages filled with white-edged snapshots of faces both familiar and unknown to me. I delighted in studying scenes and backgrounds I knew well and could identify, and wondered at the other places that were a mystery to me. Whose house was this? Where is that stretch of beach? Why are they standing in front of that building?

There was something inherently comforting about this activity, and a raw candidness to those aged images that I loved. The pictures were a link to my past and offered a glimpse into the lives of my family members before I existed. They were evidence that I’d been held by my great-grandmother when I was an infant, that my grandparents enjoyed a robust social life, that my own mother had been a child once, too.

When I was in high school, my mom gifted my sisters and me our very own photo albums for Christmas one year. For hours we pored over these chronicles of our childhoods, delighting in our shared memories and our individualized collection of pictures. It took my mother months to sift through all the loose photos, separate and order them for the three of us, and decide how they ought to be placed in each book. Her act of love made me feel valued and important, and those photo albums remain one of the most treasured gifts I’ve ever received.

When my husband and I had children of our own, I had a well-intentioned desire to create a scrapbook for each of their first years. My oldest son’s album was complete by the time our second son was born, but I only made it to month 9 for our youngest boy. Even so, the albums remain a touchstone for our sons much the same way they were for me growing up.

Our children were born in the era of digital photography, and many of the images we’ve captured of them remain on our computer instead of in print. Practicality of this storage mode aside, I’ve often found myself longing for the tangibility of picture albums: the anticipation of turning of the page and not-quite-knowing what comes next; the soothing familiarity of that beloved ritual. Occasionally I’ve considered working my way through those online photo files, selecting images to print, and arranging them into albums, but the task has always felt too daunting.

This past weekend, we received a box full of photographs from my mother-in-law. For years, she’s faithfully taken pictures of the moments and milestones in each of her eight grandchildren’s lives and had them printed. She’s used this time at home to sort through her vast collection of photos and share them out among the family.

I spent about an hour looking through the images and felt a surge of nostalgia and delight. From infancy to present time, our boys’ lives were represented. Memories quelled by the passage of time suddenly burst forth as I was transported to scenes from their birthdays, first days of school, sporting events, vacations, and family visits.

The gift of these snapshots provides powerful inspiration to finally tackle the task of creating a book of memories for each of our sons. It’s a perfect project for this summer in particular, and working on it might even be something our teenage boys would enjoy.

Amy Roby can be reached at ranchosroundup@hotmail.com.