Wish I knew every photograph’s story . . .




After my mother’s death in the fall of 2007, my brother and I emptied her Florida home. As we sorted through stuff we were surprised to find out that our mom, Audrey, had some major packrat tendencies. Phone books dating from the ’60s and ’70s took up a corner in her closet. She had 14 bathing suits in various stages of decay (she walked in the community pool with her “noodle” every day, weather permitting). An antique marble-topped dresser next to her bed was crammed with papers, pictures, cards and more.

Our baby pictures and color photos we’d sent her of our daughters throughout the years shared space with small black & white snapshots of high school chums, girl friends from her art school days in New York City and dapper young men in WWII army uniforms. Report cards from our elementary days were in folders next to numerous typewritten resumes (with carbons). They belonged to our father, Merrill, who died in 1964 when I was 10. Job inquiries, yellowed newspaper clippings of her fashion illustrations, matchbooks, her wedding announcement with the Crane’s engraving plate and other documents that were obviously precious to her were nestled in the dresser. Our history mingled with hers in four wooden drawers.

Most of her belongings; clothes, furniture and knick-knacks were sold, while paintings, silver and china were shipped west to Portland and Seattle. Audrey’s small red rolling suitcase was filled to capacity with the treasure trove from the bedside chest.

Yesterday, when I opened it, looking for items to copy to incorporate in my encaustic art, I was struck with how little I actually knew of her life. We didn’t have a close relationship so I know the big stuff, but who are these saddle-shoed teenagers she’s goofing with? Who’s the bearded old gentleman in the pith helmet next to the plow horse? What are the pictures of clouds about? The tiny details that make up who she was are lost to me and what I’m left with are images of people and things that mattered most to her. I could be cynical and liken all the items in the dresser to the phone book cache – stuff she just never got rid of – but I don’t think I will.

2 thoughts on “Wish I knew every photograph’s story . . .

  1. I love this story and your honesty. I am reminded of Alain de Botton’s book, Kiss and Tell, which is about the process of writing biographies and the ultimate impossibility of knowing another person. I think it’s lovely to be reminded that our parents are people too, with whole lives and internal worlds that we don’t know about. That’s what I’ve taken from your post anyway.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Our daughter is 25 now and I’ve always been aware (even when she was in preschool) that there were parts of her life that I knew little about. Sharing stories is connecting.

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