Saturday, June 2, 2012

And then I remembered the weevils that lived in that flour

“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.

Have fun!


  1. Pictures make a huge difference in sparking an interest in the past, don't they? I just showed my 12 year old son some pictures of my grandfather--whom he never knew, but with whom he shares many talents. Seeing the pictures made him want to know more, and that opened the door for some really neat discussions about the values my grandfather exhibited.

    1. Oh, Lia, that must have been such a special time for you and your son--perhaps the start of additional discussions in the future. And it all started with some pictures. Amazing.

      Thanks for stopping by, Lia. :)


  2. I LOVE this one, Linda! I asked for a scanner for Christmas and for my birthday but have been so overwhelmed by the task of scanning all those slides/photos/negatives that I haven't yet tackled it. I am actually thinking of paying a grandson to do it for me! But I do want them sorted and digitized. I do. And this wonderful story has cemented that for me. I WILL do it. Just don't ask me how or when. :>)

    1. Hi, Diana, good for you! Yes, hire your grandson if that's what it takes. You'll always be thankful. Your family will be delighted, too.

      Have fun, Diana, and thanks for stopping by. :)


  3. Oh, I love pictures! They truly do help to make stories from the past come alive.

    1. They do, that's for sure, Victoria. While you and your children are young, I hope you take better pictures than I did when my kids were younger. I'm amazed now at the important things I didn't think to capture on film and now regret it.

      Thanks, Victoria, for stopping by.


  4. Delightful post, Linda, reminding me of my own boxes of pictures waiting to be perused. Thanks for the link to Sharon's Photographic Memory Jolts post,too. it's amazing how memory snippets get revived in looking at family pictures!

    1. Yes, Kathy, pictures do revive memories. Just last night I showed my son a picture I took of him in high school and there were about 10 things in that one picture that are significant parts of Matt's life at that time. He enjoyed looking over each one, and remembering.....

      Thanks, Kathy, for stopping by.