Memories are strange things. Both gift and curse, they allow us to learn from the past even as they let us dwell upon it. Left unchecked, they may lead us to nostalgia.
One thing I love about old photos is how they can trigger buried memories or remind me of things I haven’t thought of in a long time. Even the most seemingly boring snapshot might lead to a rich array of associations. Take this one for example.
Just a picture of a dog, my childhood golden retriever. I got him when we were both just puppies. I remember my mom broke her wrist in a freak accident while playing with him. We had to put him down when he was, at least in my memory, too young. I never had a dog since.
But also in the picture is a lawn chair. I can remember its texture, how it opened and adjusted. On it sets a book, almost certainly a science fiction novel, a near-constant companion in those days. The building in the image was a detached garage. Atop its roof was an aerial antenna we used to get the three or four TV channels available at the time. The antenna also served as a lightning rod, common in the Midwest in those days.
The car in the background was a dark green Chevrolet Vega. Mom once accidentally ran it into the front of the garage because she had it in the wrong gear. I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to learn how to drive a stick shift with that car.
Those observations just scratch the surface of the associations I get from that one photo.
Sometimes the associations encompass a period of time, as in these pictures of the NDSU campus and of my dorm room (complete with cheap, thrown-together stereo and psychedelic poster). An onslaught of memories of life on campus, the music I listened to, college friends, and walking the sidewalks against bitter winter winds all come to me from viewing those pictures.
Other associations are more vertical, spanning time. Take this shot from my first days out of college. On top of an old surplus metal desk from Boeing sits my first PC, an IBM portable. It had two 5.5″ floppy drives, no hard drive, and ran at an excruciating 4.7 MHz. (In other words, it was slow.) From that prompt, I can remember the string of PCs I’ve owned up to my current-day machine that can do things that would have seemed impossible back in the day of my portable.
This picture of me with my first bicycle evokes memories of wheelies, coming to skidding stops, and riding for the sheer joy of it. It also makes me think of the white Pontiac that was the first car I can actually remember. Oh, and it reminds me what a dork I was.
Do you have old snapshots you like to look at because of the memories they evoke?
An odd thing happens sometimes when I see snapshots of other people’s lives. I am struck by the fact that, for someone, those photos capture an instant in time that must trigger a similar barrage of memories. My imagination kicks in and I might make up a story about them, or I may simply feel wonder at the amazing fact of all the lives that are out there being lived in parallel.
One oddly fascinating source of such photos is internet k-hole. It’s a bizarre collection of photos that include hundreds of random snapshots, occasionally intermixed with old pictures of celebrities and musicians, and the random old-school porn shot. (You’ve been warned, if such things make you uncomfortable.)
Have you ever looked at other people’s snapshots and found them fascinating?