During a recent trip back to Bangladesh, my eighty-six year old grandmother hands me a tattered brown envelope, full of vintage photos; among them is a slightly damaged, black and white photo, of my sister and I, with my dad, that I have never seen.
Upon finding this “hidden treasure”, I keep scanning this picture, over and over.
The smile on my father’s face, holding his two children in both arms, is priceless; I notice his casual cotton shirt, his tousled hair – and a beautiful big smile. It appears that I may have just woken up from a nap; my sister seems really happy in her white shoes, carefree of everything around her. Behind us, is the home we lived in Guptakhal. The treasured Morris Minor stands right behind my dad. I also notice a whole bunch of potted plants, that I am certain, was the work of my mother.
A picture like this opens a window to a world we may either not remember, or don’t think of, very often. Over the years, I have discovered treasures, unseen pictures or untold stories, all over our house. An old letter from my dad – or a quickly scribbled birthday note from my mom; I have even found my own childhood handwriting in a book, with spelling mistakes, the script inclining down in a forty five degree angle.
As my world has flourished, I have been blessed with two beautiful princesses. We started capturing our memories with them, very early in their lives. There are thousands of photos of each of my children. And my youngest is only five. Vacations in Costa Rica or Barcelona, family occassions in Dhaka or Oshkosh, all the places we have lived: Toledo, Greensburg, Lacrosse or Denver. Several shelves full of albums, like everything else in life, some have been “scrapbooked”, some serialized and some just randomly juxtaposed to each other.
I know that if we had to suddenly leave our home because of an emergency (war, fire, flood earthquake), and had only five minutes to gather our possessions, I would only search for the brown envelope full of passports/birth certificates and these hard copied landscape of our memories.
As digital photography emerged in the nineties, we now take four, maybe five hundred photos at every vacation. The concept of “virtually free” makes us want to capture every moment in some invisible digital space. With the beckoning of Kodak Gallery, we have now stored thousands of photographs in some virtual “cloud” that is accessible from anywhere in the world.
I have maybe two or three vintage photographs of my grandparents. There were no cameras during their childhood or even pictures of their weddings. We have heard embellished stories – like virtual movies – descriptions of gold-embroidered sarees or horse driven carriages, but no hard-copies that could create an imprint on our minds.
I have maybe a few hundred photos of my parents; some in sepia, some black-and-white – some even in the faded Technicolor of the nineteen sixties. One cannot help but wonder, what will happen to all of these memorabilia, after we are gone. My children have never met their grandfather. They never knew the generosity of his heart or kindness in his soul. They have no “connection” with him.
Over time, when Kodak doesn’t get the so desired $11.95 they charge every year, to store my beloved tapestry of life, they will e.mail two warnings that the pictures will be erased permanently.
After not hearing back, one fine day, with the click of button, someone will clear the drive of all the memories that we have worked so hard to culminate.
The cycle of life will continue, with digital dreams created by other generations to come.