Family photos

Recently, while working on an excerpt from my memoir for the publication poemmemoirstory, yes, pms, I asked Edwina for a couple of photos from her childhood to include in the magazine.

“They can be anything,” I told her. “You know, family photos, school pictures, that kind of thing.”

“I don’t have none of them,” she said.

Certain she just didn’t want to share an unfavorable photo, I pushed forward: “They don’t have to be anything special, just something that gives readers an idea of what you looked like back then.”

“No, Miss Rayan, we don’t have them kind of things,” Edwina insisted. “I can ask my sister, but she prob’ly won’t have any.”

We Ryan’s were far from professional photographers, but when I was a kid, we did have polaroids for capturing special moments and the occasional camera for vacations and holidays that we could pop the film out of to deliver to the drugstore for prints. Every school year, too, we had our pictures taken. Unless the image was really, really, really bad, my mom would purchase a package–enough for a framed copy at home and a decent-sized print for grandparents, wallets for aunts and uncles.

I remember how I struggled with capturing every image I could of Celia when she was born, realizing by the time Helena came along that such documenting of my children’s lives was probably a bit overzealous and definitely unrealistic. To this day, I have a scrapbook devoted to each of my daughters that I began when they were young. Memories–photos alongside treasures from school projects and evidence of sheer streaks of brilliance–are stored carefully in one of many boxes awaiting further cropping and mounting. At some point, I will get to those boxes and complete what I started. Maybe.

My conversations with Edwina during the past few years make clear that her childhood didn’t involve a lot of memory making. Yet her ability to recall places and dates and dialogue (perhaps with a pinch of embellishment) is impressive. She can paint a picture that surpasses most of the images of my childhood that sit in old albums or that catch my eye when I’m walking through my parents’ house. While most of the pictures of me show a smiling little girl celebrating a milestone like First Communion or hugging a favorite doll or pet, the snapshots Edwina offers aren’t as orchestrated or as seemingly happy.

Turns out, Edwina’s sister does have just a few pictures from the past, so Edwina and I are heading over to her house after Street Smarts on Friday to pick them up. I don’t know what to expect, but I promised Edwina that all will be returned to the family in good shape.


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