Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Old snapshots

My dad is second from the left.
Two years ago, I found a plastic bag filled with old photos, dozens of them. My recollection is that my mom gave them to me many years ago, and at that time they didn’t mean all that much, so I just shoved them someplace they wouldn’t be in the way. My mom’s and dad’s generation are all gone now (my dad’s 104 birthday would have been next Sunday) and I only have vague recollections of many of the people in the photos. Some I’ll never identify at all.

With a new grandson, I’ve been thinking of the future a lot, and I realized what a great present I’d been handed. A number of the photos of my mother’s side of the family had been notated by her on the backs. Thank heavens for that. One photo, probably taken around the 1880s shows my maternal grandmother’s family sitting around in their parlor. I knew my mother’s aunts, of course, but I’ve never before seen a photo of my great grandparents. There are a lot more like that. My father’s side of the family wasn’t as helpful.

Of course, any questions I have on the really old photos will never be answered now, so it’s up to me and my generation to put down as much information as we can so that, sometime in the future, our descendants will be able to look at them and know a little bit more about the family’s past. I’ve been trying to spend a few minutes every day scanning a dozen photos and writing down my annotations, not only on the back of each photo, but also in a document where I’m trying to leave more information and “clues” for future Blechtas.

While doing the fourth group last night, it suddenly hit me that my project was very much like laying out a novel before you begin to work on it. A writer must set up all the clues (or as many as you have at that point) in the right places for keeping the story moving ahead smartly and the reader involved. I know very little about a lot of the people in my photos, but in studying the things around them, their expressions, the way they’re dressed, I’m getting small clues as to who they might have been. That’s very much what a leading remark, a strange happenstance, or something unexplained each provide in the development of the plot of a crime fiction novel.

I also can’t resist trying to put stories to the photos I’m scanning. It’s unavoidable, really, being a storyteller. Who were those people with my dad onboard a ship headed to Europe in the summer of 1928? Why are they even in the frame? What was their connection to my 18-year-old dad and grandfather? Two obviously worked on the ship (one might even be the captain). The black gentleman is very interesting. Where was he going and what became of him in the tumultuous years that followed?

Answering those types of questions is what novel writing is all about, whether the person existed in real life or is a mere figment of a writer’s imagination.

3 comments:

Eileen Goudge said...

Whenever someone says I should write about my crazy family, I answer, "They'd all have to be dead or they'd never speak to me again!" Nice for you that you have such good memories of your kinfolk. That's a wonderful gift, indeed.

Donis Casey said...

Love your dad's coiffure.

Rick Blechta said...

It might have been the wind, Donis, but he does look like TinTin just a wee bit!