A young man I know was looking at pictures his friend took of their childhood neighborhood thousands of miles away.
He held up just one. “Of all your pictures, this is the one that makes me tear up.” He went on to tell a whole story related to that one picture.
Powerful. Don’t you agree?
And my daughter Karen said this upon looking at this old picture taken at the home of our friends, the Randles:
“I remember that day, and it looks as fun in the picture as I remember—the sweetness of childhood, friendship, and ice cream. And the foggy beauty of contentment and excitement from long ago. I remember the color of the floor inside, the voices of moms, the sliding back door, and the thrilling smell of someone else’s bedroom and toys, and the tingling of imagination, and ‘Let’s pretend….’”
A few years ago, my kids and I messaged back and forth about the next photo of my son, Matt, holding a piranha (piraña) he had just caught in South America:
Matt: “Nice. I still have the teeth from that very fish. Sweet hair, too.”
Karen: “I love so many things about this photo.”
Mom: “Me, too, Karen—the Branks’ house, the steep hill, the basketball hoop.”
Karen: “…the hair, the facial expression, how un-steep the hill looks now….”
Matt: “Hill still looks steep to me.”
Mom: “The sunburnt, blistered, peeling nose, the gigantic freckles.”
Using that one snapshot and the memories it stirred up, I wrote this in my soon-to-be-published memoir (working title, Please God Don’t Make Me Go!):
The three boys [Matt, Glenny, and Tommy] went fishing, too, catching pirañas and barracudas. One day Matt came home with a piraña on a line dangling from his hand—a piraña more than ten inches long. A dead piraña. “Let me take a picture,” I called, running for my camera.
Then Tommy and Glenny’s dad, George, moseyed over to inspect the prize. “Ah,” he smiled. And paused. Did I catch a hint of a gasp?
“Those teeth are sharp enough,” George said, “and those jaws powerful enough, to slice off a man’s finger with just one bite.”
And suddenly I looked at my son, and myself, through different eyes. What kind of mother would let her child do such a dangerous thing? I tried not to make a scene but couldn’t help glancing at Matt’s fingers. They were all there. I could only pray silently, Thank you, God, for keeping my boy safe.
But Tommy, George, and Glenny took it all in stride. “Now Matt,” Tommy said, “cut off its head and bury it in the dirt. Come back in a day or two. Only the jaws and teeth will be left—ants will eat everything else. You’ll have a great souvenir.”
Tommy turned to me. “You can fry that fish for dinner. It’ll have lots of bones, though.” We did, and it did. But that was okay. The memories were worth it. All these years later, Matt still shows those razor-sharp teeth and jaws to his daughters and nephews.
Julie Silander writes, “As we crack open the dusty albums of our memories, we take a few minutes to stroll through the snapshots that comprise our lives. Each picture has a story. A prologue, a theme, and an afterword.”
Julie also finds words for what you and I know so well but might not want to admit: “We would like the smiling snapshots to represent the total picture of who we are. Yet there is more….” How true.
While you read what Julie says next, think of a specific photo related to your memoir. Better yet, hold it in your hand while you read:
“Veiled behind the surface, there is always a deeper story. The argument that happened hours (or minutes) before the picture was taken, the deeper ache just below the surface of the smile, the unexpected turn of events that was to come just around the corner.”
What is your photo’s prologue?
What is its theme?
What is its afterword?
What is the deeper story that pops out of your photo?
Give yourself plenty of time to ponder that deeper story and,
when you discover it, put it in writing!