Take pictures, my mother always said. When I was overseas, she got me a photo album for Christmas. I didn't know what to do with it. Was I supposed to take pictures and put then in it? Well, yes, duh, that's exactly what she wanted me to do. See, she knew that moments are fleeting. The love of her life was under a plaque in a grave yard in southern California. The grief stricken are experts in lost moments. When there are no more hugs or tender good mornings, when smiles become nothing more than tortured dreams in suddenly empty beds, when your arms stop reaching for someone who is no longer there, when the scent of his aftershave or the sweet scent of her perfume fades from an old sweater or shirt, then pictures are all you have, and they have to be enough.
The every day is so mundane. You get up, you go to work. Saturday comes, you mow the lawn. You toss your kids in the air. You kiss your wife. You laugh with your brother, maybe the dog knocks you down while you are giving him a bath. You rake the leaves, put up the Christmas lights. Who wants to see pictures of that stuff?
I've seen old photos of my grandpa sitting on a couch with a paper plate on his knee, wearing those tan slacks with the perfect crease, in shirt sleeves, his tie loose. Other people are around him, aunts and uncles, all beehive hair and bowling shirts. It must have been Thanksgiving or maybe just a birthday party, I don't know. Those folks are all gone now, but there they were, some 50 years ago, doing their thing, with grandma or Aunt Myrtle or somebody popping flash bulbs with their crappy little Instamatics. I'm sure somebody was thinking, what the hell, I'm just eating a dinner roll here. Who cares? I'm sure grandma might have thought the same thing. Maybe that film cartridge sat in a junk drawer for a few months before she got around to dropping it off at the drug store. Then she picked the photos up, and we all looked at them and said "Oh, there is uncle so and so with cake on his lips, and didn't aunt so and so's hair turn out nice?" And back to the drawer they went.
Now grandpa is gone. My kids are grown up. All those wonderful great uncles and aunts milling around on those shag carpets in those old photos have died. But here they are on genuine Kodak paper, caught forever in these little windows to a quickly fading past. My kids are little again. My grandpa is 50 and spiffy in his Sunday suit. These old pictures, they are yellowing and curling up at the corners, but if I squint real hard I can see an uncle raise an eyebrow at a dumb joke, or if I am real still and listen real close, I can hear my little girls giggling as they play dress up, or hear my mother's laugh one more time.
Yeah, I get it now, mom. A picture might not be enough to bring somebody back, but it might let them drop by and stay for awhile. And that has to be enough, because someday, it's all we'll have.