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.

My dog lying in the yard

Me with my golden retrieverJust 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.

NDSU campus from Sevrinson HallSometimes 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.

My dorm room, Sevrinson Hall, NDSU

Desk with old computerOther 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.

My first bikeThis 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.

me as child relaxing in back yard

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?

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M is for Memories
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12 thoughts on “M is for Memories

  • 04-14-2012 at 3:49 pm

    One of my favorite things to do when I was a teenager was go to antique stores and look at the old photos. It was fun to try and figure out who the people were and what they were doing.

    Thanks for sharing! Good luck with the rest of the challenge.

    • 04-14-2012 at 5:15 pm

      That sounds like a great thing to do! I haven’t visited antique stores much (and wouldn’t have thought to find old photos there), so maybe I’ll have to change that.

  • 04-16-2012 at 2:55 am

    I have a photo on the wall right by the computer of my sister and I dressing up. The back of the house, the old toys, and me watching my younger sister apply lipstick. The memories of that time come flooding back every time I glance at it. Blog on!

    • 04-16-2012 at 12:29 pm

      Yes! The flood of memories that come from certain snapshots is actually quite delicious. At least it is to me.

      Thank you for visiting.

  • 04-16-2012 at 7:03 am

    One thing that freaks me out is how similar the shots from the same era are. Of course the film has a similar tone, but the toys, clothes, activities are all so similar it’s like you could do mix and match with people’s albums and it would hardly matter. I’m trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month. My alphabet is at

    • 04-16-2012 at 12:31 pm

      I’ve noticed that too. It’s kind of neat because it means I often get a does of nostalgia for an era even when looking at other people’s snapshots.

      Thanks for visiting.

    • 04-16-2012 at 4:14 pm

      That’s a good way to put it! Thanks for stopping by.

  • 04-16-2012 at 11:38 am

    I am fascinated with old snapshots, regardless of whether I know the people in the photo or not, There is just something magical about a time long gone and how important something in the photo must have been to the photographer. Before the advent of instant digital and instant everything, when someone wanted to preserve a memory with a photo, a lot more thought and action had to go into the process.

    It is strange, because I have been revisiting past memories all weekend and I don’t know why. I have been struggling with some “could haves” and “what if’s”. It is a dangerous game, because I know that everything is exactly as it should be and this time in my life would not be this time in my life if I had made different choices in the past.

    Memories are a treasure.

    • 04-16-2012 at 12:43 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. One of the things that fascinates me about old snapshots (my own and that of others) is to think that the place and time in the photo was real in that instant. Then there’s the realization that anyone in the photo (and the photographer) were there, experiencing that instant, feeling whatever they were feeling, thinking whatever they were thinking.

      I know that the same is true with recent digital photos, but the old pictures have (at least) two things going for them. For one, as you pointed out, they were more rare, since you couldn’t just shoot hundreds or thousands of photos without any thought. For another, the fact that those old pictures come from a “time long gone” makes them special.

      I find myself revisiting past memories quite often. Sometimes the memories that come to me are surprising. And I too go down the “what if” and “could have” roads. I am usually good about keeping in mind that I can’t actually change the past and I remind myself that that past-as-it-was led to my life as it is — the good as well as the bad.

      Our memories (and our minds) are fascinating things.

  • 04-17-2012 at 8:06 am

    Once upon a time I was standing on a beach and my camera jammed. I unwittingly opened it up to unjam the film…….and in that moment realized that I had just exposed the film, that all of the photos I’d taken were being sucked up into the cosmos never to be seen again and I was filled with a deep grief, as if I had lost the actual moments themselves. A feeling of desperation and loss.
    Whoa. Perspective check time.

    I appreciate the sharing of your photos and how you led us through your memories.
    The sideline specifics that reveal more.
    Nice computer.

    • 04-17-2012 at 12:34 pm

      Oh, I’ve had that happen, where I’ve accidentally exposed film and lost the photos that were on it. I remember feeling really bummed they were gone, even though chances were good the lost pictures were probably shitty.

      Thinking about all that makes me realize how photos back then seemed more significant. Between the cost of film and developing, and the limited number of photos that could fit on a roll of film, they seemed more rare and special. With my digital, I can shoot hundreds or thousands of pictures on a single outing at virtually no cost.

      All that said, I wouldn’t go back to film. I love the freedom that comes with the digital camera. I even think I’ve ended up with a lot more decent pictures because I’m more apt to shoot multiples of the same subject. Maybe the treasuring (or not) is as much a matter of attitude as anything else?

      Thank you for sharing your comments! (And for the ‘nice computer’ comment. It blows my mind how primitive that machine was by today’s standards, and how “cool” it seemed at the time.)


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