“I didn’t know you had these pictures, Mom!”
Matt’s face beamed. He grinned his biggest grin, spellbound by photos he held in his hands.
Hushed, he studied one snapshot after another.
“These will be great, Mom, to show my girls the people and places I’ve been telling them about all these years.”
Matt was talking about pictures I took in South America when he was age six through nine and our family lived in a remote mission center at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere.
Those were formative years for my boy. He experienced adventures most kids in North America couldn’t imagine, and they define the man he is today.
Because of Matt’s delight in discovering those old pictures in our basement, I’ve been scanning old slides by the hundreds, getting prints, scrapbooking them, and placing them among my written stories about those years. They occupy two thick three-ring binders—so far. (And Karen, if you’re reading this, I’m making copies for you!)
Today’s Point #1: Include photos with your stories and your children will rise up and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:28).
Today’s Point #2: Photos can help you find, and then add, detail and richness and depth and breadth to your memoir—and those are important ingredients for helping your readers live your stories with you. (Remember Peter Jacobi’s words, “No story has a divine right to be read.” As a memoirist, you want to capture readers’ interest so they’ll keep reading.)
Readers can get inside your stories when you recreate them through the five senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
Photos can help you do that.
For example, here are two photos of the comm (our mini-commissary) at the mission center; I’m in the red shirt. (Oh, my, I was much younger then. And slenderer. Sigh.)
When I stumbled across these pictures recently, I remembered the comm’s smells: ripe tropical fruit, powdered laundry detergent, broccoli, and, if the bread man had come, rancid bread.
And I remembered burlap bags. Since we had no paper bags, we lugged groceries home in colorful locally made burlap totes. They were coarse and scratchy and had a dried-grass-burlap-ish smell.
And then I remembered the flour I bought at the comm, and then I remembered the weevils that lived in that flour.
And then I remembered that at first I didn’t know what to do about the weevils. No one had yet taught me I could (a) put the flour in the freezer and freeze those little critters to death, or (b) spread the flour on a cookie sheet and bake them to death; then all I had to do was sift out their lifeless little bodies.
And then I remembered that before I knew how to murder weevils, I helped feed a big crowd. They asked me to bring cinnamon rolls and, you guessed it, they were speckled inside with little black spots—dead weevils.
See what I mean? I knew those pictures, I knew those stories—but I had forgotten them. I needed to rediscover them. Taking another look at the photos did that for me. They helped me rediscover fun details to include in my stories.
Sharon Lippincott, too, knows the value and joy old photos prompt. Reading her Photographic Memory Jolts was pure enjoyment for me. From only one photo, she listed dozens of memories.
Take, for example, Sharon’s memories of saddle oxfords. Her post reminded me that every morning before school, I spent a lot of time polishing my saddle oxfords—the white part and the black part.
And I’d forgotten all about my Ivy League saddle oxfords with the oh-so-cool little buckle in back. (I think Ivy League saddle oxfords need to come back in style, don’t you?)
And then there was Sharon’s memory of Natalie Wood using Scotch Tape to keep her bangs in place while they dried—yep, I did that, too.
Sharon’s post, Photographic Memory Jolts, is a fun read, a treasure trove of history especially if you’re my age—and all from just one photo!
How about you? Pull out an old photo related to one of your vignettes.
What emotions does it stir up?
What smells come to mind? What textures? Sounds? Tastes?
What styles of clothes, eyeglasses, hairstyles, shoes, furniture, and architecture does the photo capture?
What songs were popular during that era?
Does the photo raise questions?
In later years, what happened to people in the picture?
What happened just before the photo was taken? Just afterward?
Was something significant brewing at the time, but you didn’t know it until later?
Does the photo remind you of additional stories?
Go beyond looking at your old photos.
They embrace more than your eyes see. Look into them.
Listen. Smell. Feel. Taste. Relive. Unravel. Reflect.
I have a hunch you’ll discover details that will add gusto to your stories.