by JoEllen Collins
Where, I thought,
are the current generations of these lost families? Who let these precious
rambling clapboard antique and bric-a-brac store in Pescadero, Calif., I
came upon a display featuring old photographs. The bin beneath was jammed
with family albums and pages from albums, some framed and arranged to show
a generation or two of carefully posed elderly, middle-aged and young
people dressed in Sunday best. Viewing the memorabilia left me with a
profound sadness, not only because of my own sentimental inclinations, but
because of the title of the nook: "Instant Family." I wondered
whether anyone really purchased the photographs and used them as
references, adopting the strangers as "family," perhaps
inventing a history to match the images.
that many people need to acquire bogus family pictures, but the whole idea
is astonishing. Not only was I sad at that prospect, but at the idea that
these photos were once lovingly pasted in books, shown to friends and
children. Once these craggy women stiffly sat in front of their husbands,
stir-step offspring lined up on either side, and imagined these images
being shared for many generations. Many of us hope for a bit of
immortality, and certainly the family album was one way to achieve at
least a more lasting record of one’s existence on earth.
thought, are the current generations of these lost families? Who let these
precious records go? Was it the result of poverty, apathy, or the mobility
of our society that found these treasures in alien territory? I can’t
imagine giving up the treasured pictures I have of my mother and father.
Although I did lose most of my family photos in a house fire, friends and
family sent me copies of those they had. So I have recreated a family
album from those snapshots and the few my father still possessed. I also
managed to save my infant daughter’s baby book in the dash to leave my
I may thus
have a special prejudice about the need to record and keep these images
for future generations. I admit to melancholy when I look at a copy of the
large family gathering for my cousin’s wedding in the ’60s. Most of
the adults who smile from the photo are long gone, and even some of the
younger faces caught on that happy day are no longer with our family. The
brother of the groom died two years ago from brain cancer, and I still can’t
imagine that I will not hear his gentle laugh. And, of course, those fresh
faces have become lined and aged. There is reason for wistfulness.
Nonetheless, I love that picture, the proud countenance of my mother in
the middle, resembling a dowager empress. At that time, she was a few
years younger than I am now, the matronly composure something I have yet
to attain. My father is grinning , his huge and inclusive smile reminding
me of the laughter that filled my childhood home. My then-young cousins
are looking intently at the camera, their eyes filled with happiness and
hope. At that time they would have no sense of the difficulties they would
encounter in the years to come. I am proud that today I count them l among
those people I admire so for their tenacity and mutual love, a loyalty
that has led to a still-happy and fulfilled relationship. I am alone in
the photo, in its own way a precursor of my lack of success in marriage.
The other family members pose in equally revelatory ways.
say that spending time reminiscing over such pictures is a waste of the
minutes we are given to live today. I disagree. I find it rewarding to be
reminded of my past and of the loving moments I spent with my family.
Sadness is combined with gratitude. As a young girl who was told I was
adopted, I often lay in my bed at night and tried to imagine what my life
would be like had I remained in the orphanage or been placed with a
different family. I could never conceive of such a reality. I knew I
belonged to that group—to Helen and Ted, my parents, to that larger
circle of cousins and aunts and uncles. When my cousin did a family tree,
he put my name right up there where it belonged—with the rest of my
is instant. We experience unbreakable ties and responsibilities and growth
together in often muddled and complicated ways and the result is a group
we call a family. Sometimes, even those born to (rather than, in my case,
adopted by) the parents who raise them feel alien. We’re stuck with our
heritages. Yet the great thirst one senses to reconnect with missing
family members, the fodder of television reunions and Internet searches,
reminds us of the connections we need so desperately.
only material, of course. My own baby book, designed by my creative Uncle
Doc, was lost forever in the ashes of Malibu. However, my memories of his
love are not. Nonetheless, I hope my family albums do not wind up in a bin
somewhere and that I may deserve the honor of the next generations who
might open the pages and remember me fondly.